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What rights does the school have to discipline my child?

All schools must have a governors’ statement on how children should behave. The governing body must speak or write to parents, staff and pupils before it changes this. The school’s behaviour policy and any school rules must be based on this statement. The head teacher must tell pupils, parents and staff about the policy and rules at least once a year.

Under the Human Rights Act 1998, any punishment or treatment must not be ‘inhuman or degrading’. It must be suitable, taking into account what the child has done. For more information, see the Community Legal Advice leaflet, 'The Human Rights Act'.

You must be given 24 hours' notice in writing if the school wants to give your child a detention out of school hours. A detention must be 'reasonable', which means it must be suitable taking into account what your child has done. A detention should also take into account:

  • how old your child is;
  • whether they have any special educational needs or disabilities;
  • whether they have religious requirements; or
  • whether they have special transport arrangements.

Physical punishment such as smacking, caning or shaking a child is illegal in all schools. However, school staff may use 'reasonable force' to stop a child:

  • committing a crime;
  • hurting someone; or
  • damaging something.

If you think your child has been seriously harmed or sexually assaulted, you can complain straight away to the police or your local council's children's services department.

Head teachers may exclude (remove) a child:

  • for a fixed period of time;
  • at lunchtimes; or
  • permanently.

Fixed-period exclusions must not total more than 45 school days in any school year.

For the first five days of an exclusion you must make sure that your child is not in a public place during normal school hours, unless there is a good reason. You can be fined if your child is in a public place without a good reason during this time.

During the first five days of an exclusion the school will provide schoolwork for your child to do. After that, the school must provide suitable full time education. If your child has been permanently excluded, the local authority must provide suitable full-time education.

If the school excludes your child, you have the right to write to the school's governing body telling it you think your child shouldn't have been excluded. In some cases, you also have the right to attend a meeting to speak to the governing body. This applies if the head teacher excludes your child:

  • for a total of five and a half school days or more in a term;
  • permanently; or
  • at the time of a public exam.

If the head teacher excludes your child permanently and the governors agree with the decision, you can appeal to an independent appeal panel set up by the LA. The governors and independent appeal panel must decide ‘on the balance of probabilities’ whether your child did what they are accused of. This means it must be more likely than not that they did it. Your child’s actions must have been serious enough to justify being excluded, and the school must have first tried all possible methods to help or discipline your child, unless the exclusion was for a very serious incident.

Head teachers, governing bodies, appeal panels and LAs must follow rules and act within certain time periods if a child is excluded. There are also government and National Assembly for Wales guidelines describing what should happen if the school excludes your child.

You should be given the phone number of a free helpline run by the Advisory Centre for Education to help parents of excluded children. See 'Further help' for contact details.

If you are going to an exclusion hearing, you may want to get legal advice before you go. You cannot normally get legal aid to pay for a solicitor to go to a hearing, but you may be able to get free legal help to put together your case if you have a low income (see 'What if I am not happy about my child´s school or education?').

Under the rules of 'natural justice', you and your child have a right to a fair hearing. You may be able to take the LAor the school to court if a governors' hearing or independent appeal hearing is not fair. You would need expert legal advice to do this. There are tight time limits within which you need to take such action.

If your child has seriously misbehaved the LA or school can:

  • ask you to sign a parenting contract (see ‘What happens if my child doesn’t go to school?’); or
  • apply to the court for a parenting order.

You can say if you disagree with a parenting order being made and bring witnesses to show why it is unfair.

If the order is made, you will have to attend counselling or guidance classes. The order may also set out other action you must take. If you don’t keep to the order, you will be breaking the law.

If you agree to attend counselling or guidance classes, the court may not make a formal parenting order against you.

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