London college brings in 'airport-style' security checks of students - sparking walkout

22 March 2022, 09:48 | Updated: 22 March 2022, 09:49

Students protested a controversial set of security checks at City and Islington College
Students protested a controversial set of security checks at City and Islington College. Picture: Gabriel Rea

By Will Taylor

Hundreds of sixth form students at a college in London staged a walkout over security checks they say amount to "stop-and-search".

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Up to 200 pupils at City and Islington College in North London protested on Monday over the policy which it said is necessary to keep young people safe because "knife crime is again on the rise in London".

But the school admitted some of its own staff and students want the searches to end after equating them with the controversial police tactic of stop-and-search.

Clips of the walkout circulated online showing a crowd of students assembled in the street chanting "stop the search" in protest at the policy.

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Gabriel, a student at the protest, told LBC that while the checks are said to be random "it's more felt to be a targeted search and has led to more students feeling unsafe and more uncomfortable with attending their college".

"We have no issue with stop and search, but the way they have been implemented has caused upset since there has been no communication from the school board," Gabriel added, suggesting that further walkouts could be planned in light of the college's "half-assed" response.

The college said students have "every right" to protest but "we're concerned that some people are describing the checks as 'stop-and-search', when that isn't correct at all".

"The checks have been introduced because, tragically, knife crime is again on the rise in London, and there have been incidents resulting in injury or the death of young people, including students of our colleges in London," a statement from executive Kurt Hintz said.

"As one of London's largest sixth form colleges, our duty is not only to educate and inspire our students, but to do whatever we can to keep them safe while they are in our care."

The sixth form is part of the Capital City College Group, along with Westminster Kingsway College and the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London.

Its statement went on to say that checks only happen "on average about once every couple of weeks, on a random day" and that a system randomly sends 10-20% of pupils for a search when they check in at school.

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They then have a metal detector wand pass over their bags by a member of a security team, and are taken to a side room to be checked in private.

A Twitter post from a recently-created account called "No Stop and Search CANDI" [the abbreviation of the college name] said pupils were not opposed to all searches but the way it is carried out "does not make us feel safe, it creates a sense of unease and persecution around the student body and is more of a scare tactic", adding that pupils want to discuss how the policy is carried out with the college.

Thalir, a student, told Socialist Worker that the security was like those seen in airports, with pupils getting patted down.

"At least three students were suspended for not agreeing to go through the search—if you didn't cooperate you were told you can’t enter college," she said.

"It happened all of a sudden—we don't know where it came from."

Another student, Mimi, said: "It's terrible—the situation has created a really bad feeling. The way we've been treated is guilty until proven innocent."

A survey of 987 of its students found 623, or 63%, said the checks made them feel safer, the college claimed.

Staff were informed of the security plan in late February and pupils' parents were told on 17 March.

"Unfortunately, some of our staff and students are categorising the searches as 'stop and search' and want us to stop doing them," the statement said.

"They also feel that some of our students, including some vulnerable young people, have felt criminalised by the security checks."

It apologised for the "negative experience of being randomly selected".

Mr Hintz said the college asked staff and student representatives to discuss how the process can be improved but "make no apologies" for keeping its staff and students "as safe as possible".

The row follows the scandal of Child Q, a black teenage girl who was wrongly thought to be carrying drugs and got strip-searched at school.

The 15-year-old was on her period at the time and was made to take off her sanitary towel by two female officers.

A rally was held in support of Child Q, with hundreds of people joining the event in North London on Sunday.

Every school was set to be offered a metal detector wand after a rise in stabbings in London in 2017 as part of London mayor Sadiq Khan’s initiative.

Mr Khan said at the time a "strong signal” needed sending out that using knives is "unacceptable".

In 2009, Waltham Forest became the first council to introduce a borough-wide policy of using knife "arches" at random outside secondary schools to check for weapons.

No knives were found in the first 12,000 students who were checked at that time.