This advice, developed by the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC),  is for school and college staff with responsibility for behaviour management, including designated safeguarding leads (DSLs), their deputies, head teachers and senior leadership teams in schools and colleges in England. The PDF, which contains further information, can be downloaded here.


An offensive weapon is any article which is made, intended or adapted to cause injury. Offensive weapon can be broken down into two categories:

  1. Those that are made as an offensive weapon (e.g. knuckle- duster, dagger, gun) or adapted (e.g. broken bottle) for use for causing injury to the person; and
  2. Weapons not made or adapted as an offensive weapon (e.g. kitchen knife, spanner, hammer) but intended by the person having in possession of it to cause injury to another

Possession of a weapon, particularly a knife on school or college premises is often an indicator of vulnerabilities for the young person concerned and therefore a multi-agency approach is important, instigated by a police referral. The school or college should not be expected to manage the situation in isolation.

School staff do have the power to search for weapons, using force as is reasonable in the circumstances. It is important that staff do not put themselves at risk.


Section 139A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 creates the offence of possessing an article with a blade or sharp point or an offensive weapon on school premises.

Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 prohibits the possession in any public place of an offensive weapon without lawful authority or excuse.

Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 prohibits having with you, in a public place any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed, (including a folding pocket knife if the cutting edge of its blade exceeds 7.62cm/3 inches)

139A(1) Any person who has an article to which section 139 of this Act applies with him on school premises shall be guilty of an offence.

139A(2) Any person who has an offensive weapon within the meaning of section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 with him on school premises shall be guilty of an offence.


139A(3) It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) or (2) above to prove that he had good reason or lawful authority for having the article or weapon with him on the premises in question.

139A(4) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection
(3) above, it shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) or (2) above to prove that he had the article or weapon in question with him:-
(a) For use at work, (b) for educational purposes, (c) for religious reasons, or (d) as part of any national costume.

BB guns (plastic pellet guns)

The possession of these types of guns under legislation is not an offence as they are deemed to be toys. However, if from a school or college’s perspective they breach school rules, they could be seized and retained under the Education Act.

If an item is found which is suspected to be a gun, and it cannot be ascertained whether it is a genuine firearm or a BB gun, it should always be treated as a firearm and the police called to make that decision.

Possession of these items becomes an offence when a person is misled into believing they are genuine firearms in order to provoke fear; the BB gun may then be classed as an imitation firearm. Circumstances giving rise to this belief may include use:

  1. in connection with a robbery
  2. To threaten someone
  3. As a weapon to assault someone, e.g. pellet injures

Contacting the police

The presumption would be to contact the police unless in exceptional circumstances where there is a reasonable explanation or set of circumstance where it is obvious that a weapon or prohibited article has been brought into school or college as a genuine mistake.

The weapon should be seized and stored securely by the school.

  • Head teachers and staff authorised by them have the power to search students for offensive weapons, with their consent. They also have statutory power to search pupils or their possessions, without consent, where they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the pupil may have an offensive weapon. Further information can be found here

Aggravating factors

Therefore as the police will be involved in most situations where a weapon is involved, the full circumstances relating to the incident will be investigated.

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