Confiscating pupils' property is a legitimate sanction provided that there is a good reason for so doing (as set out in the school rules) and that the length of time the article is confiscated is reasonable.
It should be done to prevent inappropriate behaviour rather than as a punishment for misconduct. School staff are legally responsible for confiscated items.
For how long should items be confiscated?
This depends on how long is necessary to prevent inappropriate behaviour. As a general rule, perishable items such as food should be returned not later than the end of the school day, as should valuable items such as jewellery.
Other items should be returned after seven days. If the issue is serious enough for a longer period of confiscation, then parents should be informed. It is not generally reasonable for property to be withheld for longer than a half term.
ATL believes that the onus should be on the pupil to collect confiscated property rather than on the staff member to take steps to return it. So, this emphasises the need for you to tell pupils when the item may be collected.
School rules and procedures
In all cases, schools should have clear and published rules about confiscations and established procedures for the care and return of pupils' property. Forms should usually be used as receipts for confiscated property and locked receptacles should be provided to ensure that it can be kept safely.
Cigarettes, alcohol, solvents or drugs
It is not illegal for pupils to smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. ATL recommends that the school rules provide for these items to be confiscated and for parents to be contacted and asked to collect them. Intoxicating solvents should be dealt with in the same way.
You should not destroy pupils' cigarettes or dispose of alcohol - nor should you keep items for your own consumption. This could amount to criminal damage or theft.
Possession of illegal drugs is a criminal offence - and so any suspected drugs found should be confiscated and taken to the headteacher who will make a decision about police involvement. You should not retain the confiscated suspected drugs nor take decisions yourself about whether or not to report the matter to the police.
Responsibility for student property
You are legally responsible for any property that you have confiscated. You could potentially be held legally responsible if items were lost through negligence. Saying that a pupil should not have had the lost item with them in school in the first place is no defence.
You should take reasonable care of items by keeping them either on your person, or in a locked receptacle until they can be handed in to the school office (or other designated place) with identification showing to whom the item belongs, when and by whom it was confiscated.
If reasonable care is not taken and the property is lost, students are entitled to claim compensation against the school or college.
ATL insurance cover
There should be no expectation of the teacher or lecturer having to reimburse the cost of a confiscated item personally. Schools and LEAs do not normally provide cover in their insurance policies for pupils' property on the premises.
ATL members are automatically insured against their liability for pupils' property confiscated by them if its loss occurs in the school buildings. This cover is limited to £250 and excludes the first £25.
Need further advice?
Your first point of contact is your ATL rep in your school or college. Your local ATL branch is also available to help with queries, or you can contact ATL's member advisors on tel: 020 7930 6441 or email us. Please have your membership number to hand when telephoning and include it with any correspondence - this will help us to answer your query more quickly.