The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) today publishes its legislative scrutiny report on the Education Bill.
The report deals with four significant human rights issues:
- Extended powers to search pupils
- School exclusion appeals
- Teacher anonymity
- Free early years provision
The Bill enhances the powers of staff to search pupils in schools. The committee calls for:
- guidance which makes it clear that searches can only be made for items which could disrupt teaching or learning, threaten the safety of pupils and teachers, or breach criminal law
- guidance on the searching of pupils of the opposite sex, to make clear the expectation that a secondary school teacher would do so only "on very rare occasions" and that personal searches (excluding searches of lockers, bags and outer clothing) should only be conducted when there is a risk of serious and imminent harm
- a tighter definition of staff powers to examine and erase data stored on pupils' electronic devices, as this could potentially represent a serious interference with the right to family life
On school exclusion appeals, the committee believes that the proposed "independent review panels" - with more limited powers than the current panels - would be incompatible with the right of access to a court or tribunal: a particularly important issue, given the impact a permanent exclusion can have on the life of the pupil. The committee calls on the Government to take on board the recommendation of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council that all exclusion appeals be referred to the First-Tier tribunal to remove this potential incompatibility.
The Bill contains provisions for restrictions on the reporting of criminal allegations made against teachers before they have been charged. The committee is satisfied that the restrictions are a necessary and proportionate interference with the right to freedom of expression in order to protection the reputation and rights of teachers.
Finally, the committee also welcomes the extension of the entitlement to free early years provision to all disadvantaged two year olds as a human rights enhancing measure.
Dr Hywel Francis MP, the Chair of the Committee, said:
"The provisions in the bill about searching pupils require detailed guidance: searches must only be made for items likely to disrupt teaching or learning, threaten the safety of pupils and teachers, or breach criminal law. The Government should also more tightly define the power in the Bill for staff to examine and erase data on pupils' electronic devices. Otherwise there may be serious implications for the right to private and family life."