This page provides information on the powers of schools to discipline their students for example the use of detention, seclusion or isolation, searching and screening students and reasonable use of force.
The School Behaviour Policy
Under Section 89(1) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, the school’s behaviour policy should set out measures which aim to promote good behaviour, self-discipline and respect, prevent bullying and ensure that pupils complete assigned work. The policy should essentially regulate the conduct of pupils.
The role of the governing body is integral in establishing what measures should be taken in relation to different aspects of the policy. The headteacher must take into account the governing body’s statement of behaviour principles. The governing body can provide guidance 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 headteacher must decide on the standard of behaviour and the penalties applicable when the behaviour policy is breached.
The school behaviour policy must be publicised 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 the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2014, the proprietor of an Academy school is required to ensure that a written policy promoting good behaviour among pupils and setting out any disciplinary sanctions is drawn up and effectively implemented.
While Academies are not required to publish their behaviour policy on the school website, it is good practice to do so, and the policy should be made available to parents upon request.
Punishing Poor Behaviour
Powers of teachers
Teachers can discipline pupils whose conduct falls below the standard which is reasonably expected of them. The headteacher 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 headteacher;
- The decision to punish and the punishment must be made on the school premises or while the pupil is under the charge of the member of staff;
- It must not breach any other legislation e.g. in respect of discrimination and it must be reasonable in all circumstances.
This section applies to maintained schools; academies should check their funding agreement. Section 91 of the 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.
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. Some of these disciplinary measures can range from verbal warnings, missing break times, setting written tasks as punishment, detention and in the more extreme circumstances fixed or permanent exclusions.
Teachers have the power to issue detention to pupils below the age of 18 and this must be clearly articulated to pupils and parents where detention is used as a sanction. Parental consent is not required before detention can be issued as a punishment. Detention can take place during schools hours and in some circumstances outside 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 ‘noncontact days’.
When issuing detention outside school hours, the pupil’s safety should remain a paramount consideration and the necessary steps must be taken to ensure the pupil is not put at risk of harm, this can include steps such as informing parents of the detention.
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 while ensuring the health and safety of pupils and any requirements in relation to safeguarding and pupil welfare are maintained. The school also allow pupils time to eat or use the toilet.
The school can exclude a pupil from school on a fixed term or permanent basis. A school can permanently exclude based on one off serious offence or persistent breaches of the school’s behaviour policy. (See our page on Dealing with exclusions for more information)
Searching, Screening and Confiscation
This section applies to both maintained schools and academies. School staff can search a pupil for any item if the pupil agrees, this consent does not need to be formally written down. Under Section 550ZA (3) of the Education Act 1996, headteachers and authorised staff can search a pupil, without consent, where they have reasonable grounds to believe that the pupil may have a ‘prohibited item’. These are:
- Knives or weapons
- Illegal drugs
- Stolen items
- Tobacco and cigarette papers
- Pornographic images
- Any article that the member of staff reasonably suspects has been, or is likely to be, used to commit an offence, or
- To cause personal injury to, or damage to the property of any person
The school can as a result of the search or otherwise, seize the prohibited item. The powers to search under the Education Act 1996 are compatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to a private and family life) as it is considered justified and proportionate.
Screening is permissible under the school’s statutory power to make rules on pupil behaviour and their duty to keep the members of staff, pupils and other people safe. The school does not have to allow the pupil on the school premises if they refuse to cooperate and the school can treat this as unauthorised absence as long as the school does not formally exclude the pupil.
The school can designate a member of staff to undertake searches under these powers and training should be offered to enable them to carry out their responsibilities. The member of staff searching must be the same sex as the pupil being searched and there must be a witness present during the search. If there is an imminent threat of harm and it is not reasonably practical to get another member of staff, then a member of staff of a different sex can conduct the search.
Use of reasonable force
Reasonable force used to either control or restrain covers a range of actions that involve a degree of physical contact with the 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 headteacher has temporarily put in charge of pupils such as unpaid volunteers or parents accompanying pupils on a school organised visit.
The decision on whether to not to physically intervene is down to the professional judgement of the member of staff concerned and has to be judged on an individual case basis depending on the circumstances. The school do not need the consent of the parent to use force on a pupil, however they should inform them 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;
- 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.
The headteachers and authorised members of staff can use reasonable force to conduct a search for prohibited weapons (as outlined above), however force cannot be used to search for items which have been banned under the school rules.
Every school under their requirement to have a behaviour policy should also include within their policy the power to use force and the circumstances in which force might be used. The policy can include:
- Outline strategies for preventing or de-escalating behaviours that precipitate the use of physical interventions;
- Procedures for post-incident support;
- How the concept of reasonable force will be determined;
- Distinctions between planned and emergency physical intervention;
- Descriptions of what strategies 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 school can take its own decision about the training of staff and can consult with their local authority for advice and guidance to help in developing their training programme.