Hardcore porn is part of pupils' human rights

20th March 2009 at 00:00
Teacher searches for offensive material would not be permitted under apprenticeships bill

Teachers will be unable to search pupils' bags and lockers if they suspect them of carrying "violent" or "hardcore" pornography for fear of breaching their human rights, ministers have said.

The startling admission came to light during a Public Bill Committee hearing at which two education ministers, Jim Knight and Sarah McCarthy-Fry, were giving evidence.

The committee is scrutinising the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, which recently had its second reading in Parliament.

Union representatives have expressed concern that the bill is too prescriptive about what teachers can search students for, listing stolen goods, drugs, alcohol and weapons, but not "violent pornography", which, they said, could be offensive or harmful to other pupils.

Speaking at last week's committee meeting, Tory MP Charles Walker echoed unions' concerns and questioned why heads were not allowed to use their "professional judgment".

Ms McCarthy-Fry, the junior schools minister, said: "Children have human rights as much as adults do, and it comes down to the fact of it (the power to search) being proportionate. I would not welcome a sweeping power to search any child in a school."

But Mr Walker replied: "Children do not have human rights as much as adults do. I tell my children where they are going to school, what time they are going to bed, when they will do their homework and what they are having for supper.

"I am concerned that you have received advice from your lawyers stating that it is all right to search for guns, knives or whatever, but that we suddenly get into a whole area of difficulty with other things, and I cannot understand why that distinction is being made."

Liberal Democrat education spokesman David Laws also expressed concern.

"Do you not think that many parents will be shocked and disturbed?" he asked. "I understand the problem you are trying to deal with, but by prescribing those particular areas, you are effectively being explicit about something that most parents would think was intolerable, and that teachers should be able to search for - hard(core) pornography - and preventing that area from being looked at."

Status Training Services, which trains teachers in the law and their powers to search, believes incorporating pornography could be "problematic".

Peter Smith, its chief executive and a former senior police officer, said: "The Human Rights Act does apply to young people, but the situation has always been one of safety. People would say it (the power to search) is right when it comes to drugs, alcohol and weapons because there is a safety issue there.

"Previously, if a crime was reported, such as a mobile phone being stolen, then a teacher would not be able to search the suspected party unless they gave consent, then the police would have to brought in."

He added: "I can see pornography being problematic, especially when it comes to electronic data. You would have to see it first, and then have the proper knowledge of how to find it. Plus there is the question of whether they (pupils in possession of pornography) are putting the school at harm.

"When it comes to co-operating with statutory legislation, pupils, parents and lecturers have to see what the benefits are," he said.

A spokesperson for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "We have no evidence that children taking pornography into school is a significant problem and are focusing plans to extend search powers for teachers to include alcohol, controlled drugs and stolen property. We do not condone students taking pornographic material into schools and teachers do have the power to confiscate such material if necessary."

PROHIBITED ITEMS

Under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill:

- Offensive weapons: "any article made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person, or intended by the person having it with him for such use by him". This includes knives, blades, guns, swords, hammers and knuckledusters.

- Alcohol in any shape or form.

- Classified drugs from class A to C.

- Stolen goods.

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