Students staged a mass walk out and a governor resigned yesterday after their college introduced what they call “stop and search” security checks – with some promising more protests are to come.
City and Islington College in London 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 has been met with strong opposition from both students and staff who say that the measures amount to “stop and search” tactics used by the police – a term the college disputes.
Students who spoke to FE Week said they feel “violated” by the checks.
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 for the college – has resigned over the issue.
Justifying the college’s decision Kurt Hintz, City and Islington College’s principal said: “There have been incidents resulting in injury or 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.”
The checks take place on average about once every couple of weeks, on a random day. A system then randomly sends 10 to 20 per cent of students for a search when they check-in at college.
If a student is selected for a search, their bags are checked and a metal detecting wand is passed over them – something the college likens to a visit to a museum or an airport.
For those students who are selected for the check, the security screening is conducted by a specially trained security person and that person should be the same gender as the student – a rule which hasn’t been adhered to every time.
The check is also overseen by a member of the college’s curriculum or student support team of the same gender as the student.
“It seems that the first time the checks were carried out at this site, some students may have been checked by someone not of their gender, but the process is completely non-invasive, and at all times a same-gender member of our non-security staff was present during the checks,” a spokesperson for the college said.
The spokesperson said that students who do not wish to participate in the screening on the day are not able to access the site that day but can return the very next day for lessons as normal. No-one is being suspended or excluded as a result.
Hintz said students had every right to protest and said he welcomed the focus on knife crime in London and the “important debate that these additional security checks have brought about”.
However, one student who spoke to FE Week who did not want to be named, argued there’s a culture in college that assumes the guilt of young people before anything has been proven.
“It happens a lot, when teachers are suspicious of students for carrying knives, before they’ve even found anything,” they said.
“It feels like we’ve been violated because we’ve basically been told we are more likely to be carrying knives or weapons.” they added.
A spokesperson from the college said that students and parents had been properly consulted.
“The topic of the additional security checks was then discussed with students in a range of meetings, including a students’ union meeting on February 25,” they said.
The college also wrote to parents and students on March 17 and explained the rationale behind the process.
But students from the college told FE Week that they weren’t consulted properly.
“It felt like one day we turned up, and it was in place — we weren’t given enough of a warning, nor were we widely consulted,” they said.
Do students at the college feel safe?
The college carried out a survey of 987 of its students and found that 63 per cent said the checks made them feel safe.
However, a student from the City and Islington College told FE Week that the security measures had the opposite effect.
“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,” they 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.”
A group of students who are running a campaign called “nostopandsearchcandi” against the security measures told FE Week that the measures were “heavy-handed”.
“We do not believe the system enforced by our college is actually keeping us safe, but instead it’s causing a sense of unease and fear.”