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.
What should be included in a school behaviour policy?
Under section 89(1) Education and Inspections Act 2006, 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.
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.
Department for Education Guidance
There is an advice document aimed at headteachers and school staff called ‘behaviour and discipline in schools‘. It provides advice to headteachers and school staff on developing the school behaviour policy and explains the powers members of staff have to discipline pupils. It is for individual schools to develop their own best practice for managing behaviour in their school.
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.
For maintained schools, section 91 Education and Inspections Act 2006 stipulates that for a penalty to be reasonable, consideration must be given to:
- the pupil’s age;
- any special needs or disability and;
- any religious requirements affecting them.
The school should also 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.
What sanctions can a school implement?
Corporal punishment is illegal in all circumstances.
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;
- missing break times;
- setting written tasks as punishment;
- fixed or permanent exclusions (see our page on School Exclusions).
Teachers have the power to issue detention to pupils under 18. 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’.
When issuing detention outside of school hours, the pupil’s safety should remain a paramount consideration and the pupil should not be put at risk of harm. One way of safeguarding against this would be to inform parents of the detention.
Seclusion / Isolation Rooms
Where seclusion or isolation rooms are used for disruptive pupils, this should be clearly outlined within the behaviour policy. Any use of isolation that prevents a child from leaving a room of their own free will should only be considered in exceptional circumstances. The school should ensure that pupils are kept in seclusion or isolation no longer than is necessary and that their time spent there is used as constructively as possible. Schools should ensure the health and safety of pupils and allow pupils time to eat or use the toilet.
The school can exclude a pupil from school on a fixed term or permanent basis. See our information page on ‘School Exclusions‘
Searching, Screening and Confiscation
Schools also 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 prohibited weapons, 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. See our page on ‘Disability discrimination in education‘.
The Department for Education has released Departmental Advice on ‘Use of reasonable force‘ in schools.