Confiscating mobile phones / Police / Police in schools

Can a police officer or a teacher take a pupil’s phone?

Can a teacher confiscate a pupil’s phone? How long can they confiscate it for? Are the police allowed to confiscate a pupil’s phone?

Disclaimer: this article is for general information. It’s not intended to be used as legal advice. For information on how to get legal advice, please see our our ‘I need a lawyer’ page.

Teachers and members of staff have significant powers to search pupils. These powers might be extended to Safer School Police Officers (‘SSPOs’) depending on their Partnership agreement. You can find more information about the powers that teachers and members of school staff have on our ‘Can I be searched in school?’ page.

These powers can include confiscating and examining mobile phones.

When can a teacher (or SSPO) confiscate a mobile phone?

A member of staff can search for and confiscate a mobile phone if:

  • they have reasonable grounds to believe the pupil is breaching school rules with it, or
  • they have reasonable grounds to believe it is related to a criminal offence

This power might be extended to an SSPO, depending on their Partnership agreement with the school.

Confiscating a phone for breaching school rules

Schools should make it clear when a mobile phone can be confiscated for breaching school rules. This could be in relation to other school rules, such as disrupting a classroom.

The decision to confiscate the phone in relation to a breach of school rules has to be “reasonable in the circumstances”. If you believe a confiscation was unreasonable, you may want to consider challenging this decision. In minor cases you might want to raise this in a complaint letter to the school. In more serious cases you may wish to approach a solicitor specialising in education law, as you can also raise this challenge in court.

Once a phone has been confiscated, the member of staff has wide discretion about how long they keep it for. You are unable to claim compensation against the school if the phone is damaged while it is in their care.

However, government guidance states that a teacher must consider whether it is appropriate to return the item to the pupil or parent. They also have to consider the child’s welfare when making this decision.

If the child relies on their phone for important aspects of their life (for example, a young child who needs to communicate with their parents or safely navigate their route to and from school) it may be considered unsafe to confiscate their phone for an extended period. You may wish to raise this in a complaint to the school, if you believe that a mobile phone has been confiscated for too long.

Can a teacher look at my phone during a search?

If a teacher finds a pupil’s phone during a search and confiscates it because the school rules allow them to, they are allowed to open the phone and look at data or files if they have a “good reason”.

“Good reason” means a reasonable suspicion that the data on the phone has or could:

  • cause harm
  • undermine the safe environment of the school
  • disrupt teaching
  • be used to commit an offence

They can also delete data if its continued existence is likely to cause harm to anyone. But they should give the pupil or the parents the opportunity to delete it themselves first.

There is limited guidance on whether a pupil ‘has’ to give a teacher access to their phone by unlocking it for them.

What if my phone is confiscated in relation to a criminal offence?

If a teacher decided to search a pupil for their phone in relation to a criminal offence, that search had to be based on reasonable grounds. If it’s not based on reasonable grounds, you may be able to challenge this.

If a pupil’s phone is confiscated in relation to a criminal offence, teachers can also keep it for as long as they decide and examine the data if they have a “good reason”. This has the same guidance as above.

However, if they find any data related to a specific offence, they must hand it to the police as soon as they can. They are also not allowed to erase any data related to an offence.

When can a police officer confiscate a pupil’s mobile phone?

An ordinary police officer can only confiscate (“seize” in this context) a mobile phone when they have reasonable grounds to believe that it contains evidence in relation to an offence which is under investigation. It cannot be seized simply as part of a stop and search, or in relation to breaking school rules. This is also true for SSPOs who haven’t been given specific powers under their Partnership agreement.

If your phone is seized as part of an investigation, you should contact a criminal defence solicitor.

What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

Did you find this content useful?

Help us make our content even better by letting us know whether you found this page useful or not