Discipline within school

This page provides information on the powers of schools to discipline their students for example the use of detention, seclusion or isolation and the use of reasonable force.

The Department for Education has issued non-statutory advice on Behaviour in schools.

What should be included in a school behaviour policy?

Local Authority Maintained Schools

Under Section 89(1) Education and Inspections Act 2006, Local Authority maintained schools should have a behaviour policy which regulates the conduct of pupils. It should set out the measures aimed at promoting good behaviour, self-discipline and respect and measures to prevent bullying and ensure that pupils complete assigned work.

The head teacher decides on the standard of behaviour and penalties for breach of the behaviour policy. The head teacher must take into account the governing body’s statement of behaviour principles on issues relating to:

  • the screening and searching of pupils;
  • the power to use reasonable force and other physical contact;
  • the power to discipline beyond the school gate;
  • when to work with external agencies to assess the needs of pupils with continuous disruptive behaviour; and
  • pastoral care for staff accused of misconduct.

The school behaviour policy must be in writing and made available to staff, parents and pupils at least once a year. Furthermore, the policy must be published on the school website in accordance with the School Information (England) Regulations 2008.

Academy Schools

Under Part 3 of the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2014, the proprietor of an Academy school must create and implement a written policy promoting good behaviour among pupils and setting out disciplinary sanctions for breach.

Academies are not required to publish their behaviour policy on the school website, but it is good practice to do so, and the policy should be made available to parents upon request.

General advice

A behaviour policy should include detail on the following:

  • purpose – including the underlying objectives of the policy, and how it creates a safe environment in which all pupils can learn and reach their full potential;
  • leadership and management – including the role of designated staff and leaders, any systems used, the resources allocated and engagement of governors/trustees;
  • school systems and social norms – including rules, routines, and consequence systems;
  • staff induction, development and support – including regular training for staff on behaviour;
  • pupil transition – including induction and re-induction into behaviour systems, rules, and routines;
  • pupil support – including the roles and responsibilities of designated staff and the support provided to pupils with additional needs where those needs might affect behaviour;
  • child-on-child abuse – including measures to prevent child-on-child abuse and the response to incidents of such abuse; and
  • banned items – a list of items which are banned by the school and for which a search can be made.

The school behaviour policy should adhere to the following principles:

  • accessible and easily understood: clear and easily understood by pupils, staff
    and parents;
  • aligned and coherent: aligned to other key policy documents;
  • inclusive: consider the needs of all pupils and staff, so all members of the school community can feel safe and that they belong;
  • consistent and detailed: have sufficient detail to ensure meaningful and
    consistent implementation by all members; and
  • supportive: address how pupils will be supported to meet high standards of

Schools should ensure that high standards and expectations of good behaviour pervade all aspects of school life including the culture, ethos, and values of the school, how pupils are taught and encouraged to behave, the response to misbehaviour and the relationships between staff, pupils and parents. The school’s approach to behaviour should be easily apparent to anyone joining or visiting the school. Everyone should treat one another with dignity, kindness and respect. 

The consistent and fair implementation of the measures outlined in the behaviour policy is central to an effective whole-school approach to behaviour. Consistent implementation helps to create a predictable environment. Some pupils may require additional support to meet a school’s behaviour expectations. This support should be given consistently and predictably, applied fairly and only where necessary.

What powers do teachers have to punish poor behaviour?

Teachers can discipline pupils whose conduct falls below the standard which is reasonably expected of them. The head teacher may limit the power to apply certain punishments to certain staff. For the punishment to be lawful, it must fulfil the following conditions:

  • the decision to punish must be made by a paid member of school staff or a member of staff authorised by the head teacher;
  • the decision to punish and the punishment must be determined on the school premises or while the pupil is under the charge of the member of staff;
  • the punishment must not breach any other legislation (e.g. discrimination) and it must be reasonable in all circumstances.

When a member of school staff becomes aware of misbehaviour, they should respond predictably, promptly, and assertively in accordance with the school behaviour policy. The first priority should be to ensure the safety of pupils and staff and to restore a calm environment. It is important that staff across a school respond in a consistent, fair, and proportionate manner so pupils know with certainty that misbehaviour will always be addressed. De-escalation techniques can be used to help prevent further behaviour issues arising and recurring and schools may use pre-agreed scripts and phrases to help restore calm.

The school should  take into account any underlying causes for the pupil’s disruptive behaviour, such as unmet educational needs, and should consider the need for a multi-agency assessment if necessary. Schools should consider whether a pupil’s SEND has contributed to the misbehaviour and if so, whether it is appropriate and lawful to sanction the pupil. In considering this, schools should refer to the Equality Act 2010 and school guidance to ascertain whether the pupil understood the rule or instruction and whether the pupil was unable to act differently at this time as a result of their SEND.

What sanctions can a school implement?

When poor behaviour is identified, sanctions should be implemented fairly and consistently in line with the school’s behaviour policy. Examples of disciplinary measures are:

  • verbal warnings;
  • loss of privileges – for instance, the loss of a prized responsibility;
  • school based community service, such as tidying a classroom;
  • missing break times;
  • setting written tasks as punishment;
  • detention;
  • suspension or permanent exclusion (see our page on School Exclusions).


Teachers have the power to issue detention to pupils under 18 years old. A school does not need the consent of a parent before issuing detention. Detention can take place during school hours and in some circumstances outside of school hours. This includes:

  • any school day where the pupil does not have permission to be absent;
  • weekends, except the weekend preceding or following the half term break; and
  • non-teaching days, usually referred to as ‘training days’, ‘INSET days’ or ‘non-contact days’.

With lunchtime detentions, staff should allow reasonable time for the pupil to eat, drink and use the toilet. School staff should not issue a detention where there is any reasonable concern that doing so would compromise a pupil’s safety.

When ensuring that a detention outside school hours is reasonable, staff issuing the detention should consider the following points:

  • whether the detention is likely to put the pupil at increased risk;
  • whether the pupil has known caring responsibilities;
  • whether the detention timing conflicts with a medical appointment;
  • whether parents ought to be informed of the detention. In many cases it will be necessary to do so, but this will depend on the circumstances. For instance, notice may not be necessary for a short after-school detention where the pupil can get home safely; and
  • whether suitable travel arrangements can reasonably be made by the parent for the pupil. It does not matter if making these arrangements is inconvenient for the parent.


Removal is where a pupil, for serious disciplinary reasons, is required to spend a limited time out of the classroom at the instruction of a member of staff. This is to be differentiated from circumstances in which a pupil is asked to step outside of the classroom briefly for a conversation with a staff member and asked to return following this. The use of removal should allow for continuation of the pupil’s education in a supervised setting. The continuous education provided may differ to the mainstream curriculum but should still be meaningful for the pupil. 

Removal from the classroom should be considered a serious sanction. It should only be used when necessary and once other behavioural strategies in the classroom have been attempted, unless the behaviour is so extreme as to warrant immediate removal. Parents should be informed on the same day if their child has been removed from the classroom. As with all disciplinary measures, schools must consider whether the sanction is proportionate and consider whether there are any special considerations relevant to its imposition.

Removal should be used for the following reasons:

  • to maintain the safety of all pupils and to restore stability following an unreasonably high level of disruption;
  • to enable disruptive pupils to be taken to a place where education can be continued in a managed environment; and
  • to allow the pupil to regain calm in a safe space.

Pupil support units

A pupil support unit is a planned intervention occurring in small groups and in place of mainstream lessons. The purpose of this unit can be two-fold:

  • as a planned intervention for behavioural or pastoral reasons
  • as a final preventative measure to support pupils at risk of exclusion.

In both circumstances, the underlying ambition should be to improve behaviour and maintain learning with the goal to successfully reintegrate pupils into mainstream lessons. The approach in the unit should be aligned to the culture of the whole school and compatible with the school’s behaviour policy.

A distinction is made between pupil support units and in-school alternative provision units that accommodate pupils from other settings as well (ie commissioned places); for the latter the Department for Education Alternative Provision guidance would apply and pupils must be admitted on a dual registration basis.

Searching, Screening and Confiscation

Schools have powers to search and screen pupils and confiscate prohibited items. See our page on school powers to search and screen pupils.

Use of reasonable force

School staff can use reasonable force to either control or restrain pupils. Under Section 93 Education and Inspections Act 2006, all members of school staff have a legal power to use reasonable force. It can also apply to people whom the head teacher has temporarily put in charge of pupils, such as unpaid volunteers or parents accompanying pupils on a school organised visit.

The decision on whether or not to physically intervene is down to the professional judgement of the member of staff concerned and has to be judged on a case-by-case basis, depending on the circumstances. The school does not need the consent of the parent to use force on a pupil, but it should inform parents about serious incidents involving the use of force.

Schools can use reasonable force in the following circumstances (please note that the list is not exhaustive):

  • to restrain a pupil who is at risk of harming themselves or others through physical outbursts;
  • to prevent a pupil behaving in a way that disrupts a school event or a school trip;
  • to remove disruptive children from the classroom where they have refused to comply with instructions given;
  • to prevent a pupil leaving the classroom where allowing the pupil to leave would risk their safety or lead to behaviour that disrupts the behaviour of others.

Head teachers and authorised members of staff can use reasonable force to conduct a search for some prohibited items, but force cannot be used to search for items which have been banned under the school rules. For more information see our page on School powers to search and screen pupils.

Every school should set out, in its behaviour policy, the power to use force and the circumstances in which force can be used. The policy can include:

  • outline strategies for preventing or de-escalating behaviour;
  • procedures for post-incident support;
  • how the concept of reasonable force will be determined;
  • distinctions between planned and emergency physical intervention;
  • descriptions of the strategies that will be used when managing extreme behaviour.

Any policy on the use of reasonable force should also outline the school’s legal duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled children and children with special educational needs.

The Department for Education has published advice on the use of reasonable force in schools.

This information is correct at the time of writing, 11th December 2023. The law in this area is subject to change.

Coram Children’s Legal Centre cannot be held responsible if changes to the law outdate this publication. Individuals may print or photocopy information in CCLC publications for their personal use.

Professionals, organisations and institutions must obtain permission from the CCLC to print or photocopy our publications in full or in part.

On this page

This information is correct at the time of writing, 11th December 2023. The law in this area is subject to change.

Coram Children’s Legal Centre cannot be held responsible if changes to the law outdate this publication. Individuals may print or photocopy information in CCLC publications for their personal use.

Professionals, organisations and institutions must obtain permission from the CCLC to print or photocopy our publications in full or in part.

We would value any feedback you may have regarding our website. Please click here to take our short survey.