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On this page you can read about recent government advice, what sanctions to take and the appropriateness of detention and exemption as a form of sanctioning abusing pupils.
Despite previous recommendations to introduce legislation that clarified the basis of teachers' authority, such legislation has not yet been introduced.
But in its White Paper Higher standards, better schools for all: More choice for parents and pupils, published in October 2005, the government confirmed its intention to "... introduce a clear and unambiguous legal right for teachers to discipline pupils, backed by an expectation that every school has a set of rules and sanctions" (paragraph 7.8).
At the end of 2005, the government provided more information about the proposed legal power to discipline which included:
It is intended that city academies, city technology colleges and independent special schools should also be covered by the legislation. Schools in the independent sector will not be covered by the proposed legislation.
Against this background, a major frustration for ATL members is the failure of a school's management to apply sanctions when pupils have been threatening or abusive or, in the worst case, have committed an assault.
Government advice lists a number of disciplinary sanctions that might be applied, including: removal from the group (in class) withdrawal of break or lunchtime privileges detention, withholding participation in any school trips or sports events that are not an essential part of the curriculum withdrawal from a particular lesson or group completion of assigned work or extra written work carrying out a useful task in the school.
Punishments that are humiliating or degrading must not be used.
All schools except independent and non-maintained special schools have the legal authority to detain pupils on disciplinary grounds without parental consent. Staff, pupils and parents need to be made aware that detention is a possible sanction.
Whether detention is the appropriate sanction will depend on if it is proportionate to the offence as well as the pupil's circumstances, eg age, any special educational needs, religious requirements and the pupil's travel arrangements. As part of procedure, the school must give at least 24 hours' written notice of a detention to the pupil's parents or guardians. The notice should explain that detention has been given, why it has been given and when, where and for how long the detention will last.
A pupil may appeal against a decision to exclude and the appeal will be considered by a panel set up by the local authority. The pupil will have the right to make representations at the hearing before the panel. Where the headteacher has excluded a pupil in accordance with clearly stated provisions in the school's published discipline policy, the government's advice is that the appeal panel should not normally rule that the pupil be reinstated. The same circular states that the Secretary of State "would normally regard it as inappropriate to reinstate a pupil who has been permanently excluded in circumstances involving ... serious actual or threatened violence against another pupil or member of staff or for persistent and malicious disruptive behaviour, including open defiance or refusal to conform with agreed school policies on ... discipline ...".
DfES circular 0354/2004 Improving behaviour and attendance: Guidance on exclusion from school and pupil referral units provides detailed advice on when exclusion should be used and the steps to be taken prior to exclusion. The procedures apply to all pupils in maintained schools, whether the pupil is above or below statutory school age. The procedures do not apply to independent schools, city technology colleges, free-standing nursery schools or sixth form colleges.
Help and support
For further advice on this issue, ATL members can speak to their school rep, their branch secretary or their regional official. They can also call the London (020 7930 6441), Cardiff (029 2046 5000), Belfast (028 9078 2020) or Edinburgh (0131 272 2748) offices or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For out of hours enquiries, call the out of office hours helpline on 020 7782 1612 (Monday-Friday, 5-8pm during term time).
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