College pauses ‘stop and search’ security checks after student protests

'We want to sit down calmly with students to get to the bottom of what it is that we have done so far that’s made them feel that way'

'We want to sit down calmly with students to get to the bottom of what it is that we have done so far that’s made them feel that way'

25 Mar 2022, 9:39

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“Stop and search” knife crime security checks at a London college have been paused after students staged a mass walkout, saying the measures left them feeling “violated”. 

Some 150 to 200 students attended the protest on Monday at City and Islington College, and a student governor resigned over the issue. Leaders at the college have now stopped the searches while they plan discussions with students to try and address their concerns. 

“We have paused the searches at that centre and we are going to be in further discussion with students with a view to finding a way of doing these searches that works for people and helps reassure them,” a spokesperson for City and Islington College told FE Week. 

“We want to do the right thing and we realise that we need to bring our students with us. That’s why we want to have these discussions and find out a bit more about what their concerns are.” 

City and Islington College started conducting random security checks at the entrance to its sixth-form campus on February 28, something leaders said was necessary because of a rise in knife crime. 

The policy change was met with strong opposition from both students and staff, who say that the measures amount to the “stop and search” tactics used by the police – a term the college disputes. 

A campaign against the policy has been ongoing since its introduction. But students said that following the scandal around Child Q, where a 15-year-old black girl was strip searched, they decided to stage the walkout.

Some 150 to 200 students attended the protest, according to the college. FE Week has also learnt that a student governor on Capital City College Group’s quality oversight committee – the parent group of the college – resigned over the issue. 

Justifying the college’s decision at the time, Kurt Hintz, City and Islington College’s principal, said: “There have been incidents resulting in injury or the death of young people, including students of our colleges in London. 

“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.” 

However, students told FE Week that the checks were unnecessary, and that they ended up making them feel less safe. 

“For me, personally, I don’t feel safer if, when I come into college, I have to be searched. I’ve never felt unsafe in college before,” one student at the college said. 

“The college is really welcoming. The teachers are really lovely. And the college has been great throughout Covid and throughout the two years I’ve been there. 

“I’ve never felt unsafe inside the college. But as soon as they started to introduce stop and search, I started to feel unsafe, because I felt like at any point I could be pulled up and I could be searched and my personal space could be violated.” 

Speaking about the fact some students said they had felt criminalised by the security measures, the college’s spokesperson said: “We are just really sorry that some students felt like that… We don’t want anyone to feel like that. That’s why we want to sit down calmly with students to get to the bottom of what it is that we have done so far that’s made them feel that way, and see if we can make it right.” 

The spokesperson did not say that the security measures would be abolished altogether, but that the situation would be addressed following discussions with students. 

He made the point that the security measures have been in use for three to four years at other sites in the college group. 

The decision to extend them to City and Islington sites this year was made due to increased risks regarding knife crime.

In 2019/20 Islington recorded 554 knife crime offences, which was a 19 per cent reduction compared to 2018/19. However, levels are still higher than five years ago. 

“According to intelligence we receive from local police sources, including the Violence Reduction Unit, they are seeing an increase in violent incidents,” the college spokesperson told FE Week

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