Arson attacks - should teachers police children?

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New figures have revealed that police were called to deal with arson attacks in schools across the UK almost 3,000 times over the last two years.

Now ministers are planning to amend the apprenticeships, children, skills and learning bill to give headteachers in England the power to ban, search for and confiscate any item they think likely to cause violence or disruption in schools, including lighters and matches.

However, school heads have criticised the plans, saying teachers should not be forced to search children and act as police.

The figures, published by The Guardian newspaper, reveal 2,702 incidents of arson, or the equivalent of nearly four a day. Scottish police forces recorded 1,252 incidents, compared with 1,249 in England, 126 in Wales and 75 in Northern Ireland. In England, the highest number of attacks were recorded by Metropolitan police, which covers a higher population than any other force.

Shadow schools secretary, Michael Gove, said a Conservative government would give teachers the power to deal with violence and remove disruptive pupils.

He said: "We would also give headteachers the power to ban any items they think may cause violence or disruption and abolish the current government guidance, which tells teachers not to search children who refuse to be searched."

However, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said she would be opposed to the extra powers, and pointed out that an ATL survey in 2007 found that 48% of school fires were caused by reasons other than arson.

"It could be dangerous for the staff concerned if a pupil has a weapon," she said. "It could open staff to accusations of assault, and could damage the relationship with their pupils. Teachers are not police and should not be expected to police their schools."

Her concerns were echoed by Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. "School staff need to be protected from the burden of having to prove why they lawfully confiscate items, and also from any unreasonable complaints directed at them after the event from parents and pupils," she warned.