Teachers, lecturers and support staff should clarify what authority they have to impose punishments, and if there are circumstances where they must refer an issue to a senior colleague.
Sanctions and punishments
The school or college should publish an escalating system of sanctions ranging from removal from classes, loss of privileges, reporting to senior staff, contact with parents/guardians, being placed on 'report' and behaviour 'contracts', through to temporary exclusions (suspension from school or college) and, ultimately, expulsion (permanent exclusions).
The Education Act sets down detailed controls on some of these sanctions. For example, only the headteacher/principal can exclude a student from school or college - and he or she must observe a procedure when doing so.
Corporal punishment is not a legitimate sanction and is illegal.
The Education and Inspections Act 2006 sets out clear rules as to who can give a detention, when it can take place, what notice must be given and whether parents can opt out. The law is supplemented by guidance: Behaviour and discipline in schools: a guide for teachers and school staff.
Schools should publish clear policies on school discipline and pupil behaviour, making clear when and how detention may be imposed.
Maintained schools are entitled to impose detentions, even without parental consent. They have to observe four statutory requirements, however:
- detention must be an established sanction, made known generally both within the school and to parents
- the punishment must be imposed by the head or another authorised teacher
- the detention must be reasonable
- parent(s) must have been given at least 24 hours' notice in writing.
In assessing reasonableness, the act highlights a number of relevant issues: the pupil's age, any special educational needs s/he may have, any religious requirements applicable, whether suitable alternative travel arrangements can reasonably be made by the parent, and whether the detention constitutes a 'proportionate punishment in the circumstances of the case'.
Even a casually imposed instruction to 'stay behind after school for five minutes' must satisfy the rules as to reasonableness and notice to parents. Above all, teachers must be careful that the detention can be justified as appropriate to the offence.