Who has the right to discipline pupils?
All members of staff in lawful charge of pupils have the power to discipline pupils for inappropriate behaviour or for not following instructions. This means support staff as well as teaching staff can discipline pupils.
Governors and behaviour/discipline policies
School governors have a statutory responsibility for determining their school's ethos with regard to disciplinary matters. They should have drawn up a discipline policy the aim of which is to promote good behaviour. The policy should make it clear what is acceptable behaviour and what is not, and what happens when a pupil oversteps the mark. To promote good behaviour, the policy should show how positive behaviour and attitudes will be rewarded and encouraged. Additionally, it should cover the power to use reasonable force or make other physical contact, the power to discipline beyond the school gate and provide pastoral care for for school staff accused of misconduct.
The school policy should state clearly what sanctions are available and who has the power to impose them. 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.
Schools are able to place pupils under the age of 18 in detention without parental consent outside of normal school hours. There is no legal obligation to give parents notice of the detention. Decisions about whether the parents/carers ought to be informed of the detention are left to the school.
The Department for Education (DfE) guidance states: "In many cases it will be necessary to do so (inform the parents), 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."
The permitted day for a detention includes:
- any school day where the pupil does not have permission to be absent
- weekends - except the weekend preceding or following a half-term break
- non-teaching days (ie, INSET/training days).
ATL remains concerned at the workload implications for teachers if members of staff are asked to supervise detentions at weekends.
Two sets of legal provisions enable school staff to confiscate items from pupils.
The first is the general power to discipline, which enables staff to confiscate, retain or dispose of a pupil's property as a punishment. Should the item be lost or damaged, the law will protect for such loss or damage provided they have acted lawfully.
ATL believes that schools should include confiscation of pupil's property as a disciplinary sanction in their behaviour policies. In doing so, they should explain the process staff must go through to confiscate an item from a pupil, and what must be done with the confiscated item in accordance with legal requirements.
The second is the power to search without consent for:
- knives and weapons
- illegal drugs
- stolen items
- tobacco and cigarette papers
- pornographic images
- any article that has been, or is likely to be, used to commit an offence, cause personal injury or damage to property
- any item banned by the school rules that has been identified in the rules as an item which may be searched for.
ATL believes that school staff should only be involved with consensual searches (eg, if a pupil turns out his/her pockets), although even consensual searches could prompt a complaint or allegation of assault. If a teacher searches a pupil, this could destroy a relationship of trust that has been built up over many years. There is also a concern that searches introduce an element of 'policing' to the role, and not all schools will make it clear to their staff that they have the right to refuse to search.
Use of reasonable force to restrain pupils
All members of school staff have the legal power to use reasonable force. Reasonable force can be used to prevent pupils from hurting themselves or others, from damaging property or from causing disorder. The use of force has two main purposes - to control pupils or to restrain them. The decision on whether or not to physically intervene is down to the professional judgement of the staff member concerned and should always depend on the individual circumstances of the case. The following are some examples of situations where reasonable force can be used.
Schools can use reasonable force to:
- Remove disruptive pupils from the classroom where they have refused to follow an instruction to do so.
- Prevent a pupil from behaving in a way that disrupts a school or a school trip or visit.
- Prevent a pupil leaving the classroom where allowing him/her to leave would risk their safety or lead to behaviour that disrupts the behaviour of others.
- Prevent a pupil from attacking a member of staff or another pupil, or to stop a fight.
ATL believes heads should meet with staff to continually review the above list of situations where force can reasonably be used. A clear, detailed behaviour policy together with ongoing staff training should help reduce the likelihood of allegations against staff. Any member accused of using unreasonable force should contact ATL for guidance. ATL's factsheet Allegations of Abuse Against Staff is also available to download.