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England: Letter to the Government calls for police to be removed from schools

Letter from Amnesty UK CEO Sacha Deshmukh to Priti Patel and Nadhim Zahawi says Child Q case in Hackney may amount to ‘torture or other ill-treatment’ 

Average of five children strip-searched by police every day between 2016-2021 - University of Nottingham research

In a letter to the Home Secretary Priti Patel and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, Amnesty said that strip-searching children such as Child Q breaches their rights and seriously violates their dignity.

The case of Child Q, a 15-year-old Black girl strip-searched at her school in Hackney in December 2020 was “appalling” said Amnesty International.

There are serious concerns about racial disparities in policing and strip-searches, with more than 30% of all strip-searches during 2016-21 carried out on Black people in London - even though only 13% of Londoners are Black. This finding, from University of Nottingham research data, also revealed that an average of five children were strip-searched every day during this five-year period. The Met Police alone conducted more than 170,000 strip-searches - more than 9,000 of which were on children.

Black children have long been victims of “adultification” where at an early age they are subject to questioning and policing as if they were adults. This was found in Amnesty’s Gangs Matrix research where data on children as young as 12 was found to be held in police databases.

Amnesty does not agree with claims that the presence of school-based police officers keeps children and communities safe.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO, said:

“The appalling use of strip-search on Child Q was a serious human rights violation and it may amount to torture and other ill-treatment.

“The Government must ensure that Child Q’s allegations are promptly and thoroughly investigated, and that she has access to adequate reparations.

“We need to see an end to the policy of school-based police officers in our schools as part of a wider move to ensure schools can become properly supportive places for all students."

In response to Amnesty’s letter, campaigners from No Police in Schools in Greater Manchester said:

“We welcome Amnesty taking this importance stance. Our own research into school-based police officers and police presence in schools found [such a] policy was ineffective and negatively impacts all students – especially racialised students.”

Delegates at the National Education Union Annual Conference, the largest education union gathering in Europe have today (13 April) voted for the removal of police officers in schools.

In response to their historic vote and Amnesty’s stance, members of NEU Black Members and campaigning group No More Exclusions said:

“This could not have been possible without the tireless, persistent, and principled campaigning of our grassroots movement which has led to trade unions such as the NEU and organisations like Amnesty taking this crucial important stance to make our schools welcoming for all children.”

Police should be removed from schools

As of March last year, there were at least 683 police officers in schools that have a higher than average number of BAME students and pupils entitled to free school meals. Research has found the presence of police officers in schools to be ineffective and in fact negatively impacts children, especially racialised students. Research into the presence of police officers in schools in Greater Manchester also found that people wanted to see more positive investment in schools, more teachers and pastoral support - not more police.

Amnesty joins calls for the reversal of the policy of school-based police officers. The Government must urgently assist schools in their duty to provide a supportive environment for all students. It is essential for schools to develop safety campaigns that include a range of different interventions and policies based on age, level of risk, and the environment in which the campaign will be implemented. WHO’s recommended best practice is to include efforts specifically tailored for children and adolescents - both in educational settings and in environments outside of school - aimed at empowering them to make informed decisions about their own conduct and provide them with information about where to find help if they require it.

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