TEACHERS ARE calling for school staff to be equipped with stabproof vests when they are empowered to search pupils for weapons.
A law coming into effect on Thursday will allow heads to authorise forcible searches by teachers or security staff of pupils who they believe are concealing weapons. The pat-down search must be conducted by two staff of the same sex as the pupil.
The Department for Education and Skills says that staff should be trained.
It has also agreed to union demands that teachers should be insured against legal proceedings or compensation claims if a searched pupil alleges assault.
But unions are concerned that airport-style walk-through metal detectors may become permanent installations at the entrances to English schools.
They are worried about teachers conducting body searches at all, and say that headteachers should instead hire trained support staff with security training.
G4S, Britain's largest security firm, is in talks with local authorities, police forces and headteachers' associations to provide random screening and searching services to schools.
Douglas Greenwell, its sales director, said the company would train teachers to conduct pat-down searches where necessary, but believed these were better done by trained security officers.
The company offered to take mobile walk-through metal detectors and trained security officers to schools, to screen and search pupils and offer weapons amnesties.
The Professional Association of Teachers has asked the DfES to ensure that protective clothing is included in risk assessments for staff who are required to search pupils for knives or guns.
David Brierley, the association's solicitor, said he did not expect to see teachers wearing stab vests in the classroom every day. But heads should consider buying a few vests to be used when necessary.
Last year, teachers in east London found that pupils were wearing stab vests to school, and shopkeepers reported children as young as 10 asking to buy body armour.
Luke Walmsley, 14, was stabbed to death at Birkbeck school in Lincolnshire in 2003 and Kiyan Prince, 15, died in the same manner last year at the gates of his north London school.
The National Association of Head Teachers has expressed concern over weapons searches by school staff. "This is a high-risk strategy which could have dangerous or fatal consequences," Jan Myles, the assistant secretary, told the DfES. Schools should instead call in police with body armour.
The new law encourages schools first to screen pupils with walk-through metal detectors or wands. Some schools already use wands in random checks.
Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT, said some schools might seek to use walk-through detectors permanently once they have paid to install them. Schools that used metal detectors regularly would be vulnerable to complaints of human rights or civil liberty abuses, she added.
Lord Adonis, the schools minister, said incidents involving knives in schools were rare, but the Government wanted teachers to take a zero tolerance approach.
"That's why we are giving headteachers these tough new powers to search for weapons," he said. "We think parents will welcome the clear message that bringing a knife into school will not be tolerated."