2.6 Offensive weapons
2.6.1 It is an offence under the Offensive Weapons Act 1996 to carry, without reason or authority, a knife or offensive weapon in or around schools. This applied to all knives other than folding pen knives with a three inch or smaller blade. Exceptions to this include knives used for educational purposes, and knives carried for religious purposes, eg a Sikh’s kirpan, see Annex F (part 6.1).
6.1.7 ‘Premises’ means land used for the purposes of the school. This would include playing fields for example, but is defined as excluding any land occupied solely as a dwelling by a person employed at the school.
Statutory defences for carrying an offensive weapon
6.1.8 A person who could prove that he had good reason or authority for carrying a knife, for example an officer cadet, would have at his disposal a general defence under the Offensive Weapons Act. There are in addition a number of special exceptions which permit the carrying of knives:
· for use at work (eg knives needed in school kitchens);
· for educational purposes (eg tools needed for National Curriculum technology);
· for religious reasons (eg a sikh’s kirpan); or
· as part of a national costume (eg Scottish highland dress).
6.1.9 Where Sikh pupils wish to carry a kirpan for religious reasons, local education authorities and governing bodies should also be aware of their duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Race Relations Act 1976. Further advice is at Annex F.
WEARING KIRPANS IN SCHOOLS
1 As explained in paragraph 6.1.8, the carrying of a knife for religious purposes is a statutory defence under section 4 of the Offensive Weapons Act 1996.
2 Sikhs who have been initiated in a ceremony called Amrit Pahul are required to carry a kirpan at all times. The kirpan is a ceremonial sword and is one of the five sacred symbols of the Sikh faith. Both male and female children can be initiated. There is no lower age limit, but the child must be old enough to understand the significance of the ceremony. Children of primary school age have undergone the ceremony.
3 Some Sikhs believe that it is sufficient for the kirpan to be symbolic, so that kirpans as small as one and a half inches long can be worn under clothing and sealed so that they cannot be drawn. Kirpans may sometimes be secured in protective padding. Other Sikhs believe that the Kirpan must be around eight inches long, with a five inch blade.
4 Governing bodies of all schools and, in the case of county and controlled schools, LEAs, have responsibilities under health and safety legislation to ensure the welfare of those within schools. It is for them to decide whether to allow Sikh children to wear a kirpan in schools. They will need to be able to satisfy themselves that the kirpan does not present a health and safety risk either to the child wearing it or to other pupils and staff.
5 LEAs and governing bodies also need to be aware of the possible impact of the Race Relations Act 1976. The courts have ruled that Sikhs are a ‘racial group’ for the purposes of the Act. Depending on the circumstances, a rule which operated to forbid the wearing of a kirpan, or resulted in, for example, the exclusion of a pupil who insisted on wearing one, might be alleged to constitute unlawful indirect discrimination under section 17 of the Act. A requirement will not be indirectly discriminatory, however, if it is adopted for a legitimate objective and is an appropriate and reasonably necessary means of achieving this objective. In particular cases it may be appropriate to take legal advice.
6 Schools should be fully aware of the religious observances of Sikhs and the need to deal with this issue sensitively. It should normally be possible to reach a compromise between the religious practice of the Sikh community on the one hand, and the understandable concerns of schools and non-Sikh parents on the other, for example by permitting the wearing of symbolic kirpans secured as described above.
7 A number of LEAs have produced detailed guidelines on this issue, which have been drawn up after local consultation with both the Sikh community and schools. In respect of county and controlled schools, LEAs should offer advice where difficulties arise over this issue. Any guidelines produced by LEAs should not require schools to admit children wearing kirpans if they meet certain specifications. The governing body and staff at the school will have their own responsibilities relating to the conduct of the school and the welfare of pupils, on which they will need to make a judgement.
To have a copy of the full School Security Act please e-mail me on Harsimrat.Kaur.Fateh@googlemail.com