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Problems at school

About this information

As a parent, if you have been experiencing problems with a school and informal discussions have not been successful, you may wish to take further action. When trying to solve a problem, you need to be clear about what are the official procedures for resolving the problem.

In this information, we use the word parent to describe either or both parents, or the pupil’s guardian or another person who has custody of the pupil. In Northern Ireland, the local education authority is called the Education and Library Board.

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Dealing with a problem at school

The general procedures for dealing with a problem at school are given in the following paragraphs and are listed in the order they should normally be used. You may also find it useful to contact one of the organisations which give information, advice and support on education issues before you take any action. If you believe that discrimination is involved, make sure you mention this as soon as possible.

For the addresses of organisations which can give information, advice and support on education issues, see Education: organisations which give information and advice.

Talk to your child

You may be aware that your child has a problem at school either because your child has told you or you have been told by the school, another parent or your child's sister or brother. Wherever possible, you should discuss the problem and ways of sorting it out with your child before taking any other action. However, depending on the age of your child, you may need to talk to your child's teacher in order to clarify the problem.

Talk to your child’s teacher

When you have identified the problem and are clear about where the duties and responsibilities lay, you should first talk to your child's class teacher or year tutor about the problem before taking further action. The teacher will usually be able to clarify the problem, provide more information and may be willing to support and work with you if this is in the best interest of your child. The vast majority of problems or areas of concern can be resolved in this way.

Talk to the head teacher

Although the head teacher has wide powers to run the school how they choose, they must do so in consultation with the governing body or local education authority and in accordance with agreed policies. The head teacher, particularly in a large school, may delegate responsibility for dealing with individual pupil’s problems to another member of staff. However, you can insist on talking to the head teacher if you prefer to do so.

Talk to other parents

If you think that your child’s problem is one which may also be affecting other pupils, you may wish to consider talking to other parents and taking action jointly or raising the issue at a parents’ association meeting.

Talk to the governing body

You can ask the school’s governing body to discuss your child’s problem, either as an individual or on a more general level. To raise the problem at a meeting of the governing body or one of its sub-committees, you should telephone or write to the clerk to the governing body. You could also contact a parent governor if you prefer.

Make a formal complaint

If you cannot resolve the problem by informal discussion, you may want to make a formal complaint to the school. All local education authority maintained schools in England and Wales must have a formal complaints procedure, and many other schools also have formal procedures. Ask the school for a copy of its complaints procedure. The complaint is likely to be dealt with, initially, by the head teacher or another designated member of staff. If the complaint cannot be sorted out in this way, it will then be considered by a complaints appeal panel of the school's governors.

Appeal to the local education authority

Depending on the problem and the type of school, you may be able to appeal to the local education authority or to the organisation which set up the school. For example, if your child is at a church school, you may be able to appeal to a local Diocesan board.

You will need to check with the school, local education authority or the organisation which set up the school whether you can appeal and, if you can, the procedure for doing so. If the right of appeal is to the local education authority, you could talk to your local councillors before the appeal as they may be on the appeal committee or may be willing to give advice and support.

If you are considering appealing, consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

The ombudsman

In some cases, you may be able to make a complaint to the ombudsman.

For more information about the ombudsman, see How to use an ombudsman.

At the moment, the ombudsman can only deal with certain issues about school. The ombudsman can deal with complaints about:

  • school transport services
  • special educational needs
  • student support
  • school admissions
  • permanent exclusions from school.

If you have a complaint about another problem at school, you might be able to make a complaint to another organisation. In England, you can find more information about who to complain to on the Local Government Ombudsman website at: www.lgo.org.uk.

Legal action

Local education authorities and schools have certain legal duties, for example, to get rid of discrimination and promote equality of opportunity or to meet the special educational needs of pupils. In some cases, if all else fails, you might need to think about taking legal action to make them carry out their duties.

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Starting and leaving dates

All pupils between the ages of 5 and 16 (4 and 16 in Northern Ireland) must receive full-time education, either at school or out of school. You must make sure that your child receives full-time education and the local education authority has a duty to make sure that suitable full-time education is available. In addition, the local education authority must provide full-time education to any student, aged between 16 and 19, who wants it.

For information about compulsory school age, see under the heading Compulsory school age in Access to education or in Wales, Compulsory school age.

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Holidays during term time

If you want to take your child out of school for a holiday during term time and the holiday is going to be taken from 1 September 2013 onwards, you must apply in advance to the head teacher. The head teacher can only give permission for leave of absence during term time where there are exceptional circumstances. If leave is given, the head teacher will decide the number of school days the child can be away. This applies to schools maintained by a local authority and special schools.

If you take your child out of school without the head teacher's permission, you could be fined. Failure to pay the fine within 28 days could result in prosecution.

Your child can be deleted from the admissions register if they don’t return to school within ten days, after an agreed absence of more than ten school days. This is as long as the child isn’t ill and the head teacher and local authority have failed to work out where the child is.

If a child has been continuously absent from school for more than 20 days, and the absence isn’t authorised, they can also be removed from the admissions register. This can happen as long as the child isn’t ill and the head teacher and local authority have failed to work out where the child is.

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Holidays to celebrate major religious occasions

Pupils are allowed time off school to celebrate major religious occasions. A pupil is allowed to have time off even if they also attend the school’s acts of collective worship. It is good practice to inform the school, in advance and in writing, that your child will be absent to celebrate a major religious occasion.

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Choice of subjects

If a pupil is following the national curriculum, most of their time will be spent studying compulsory subjects. In addition, most schools will teach other subjects and a pupil will usually be able to choose which of these additional subjects they study. However, the school will advise a pupil about which subjects would be most appropriate for the pupil to study, taking into account their academic ability and future career plans.

If the school does not offer a subject or combination of subjects that a pupil wants to study, this may mean they will not be able to get the necessary qualifications to get a place on a further or higher education course in future. As well as using the general procedures to try and persuade the school to offer a particular subject or combination of subjects, you may wish to suggest to the school that your child studies the subject at another school. The school may be able to re-timetable subjects if a particular combination of subjects is asked for.

Any restriction on the choice of subjects may also affect other pupils and you may wish to consider making a complaint with other dissatisfied parents or involving the parents’ association.

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Pupils whose first language is not English

A pupil who does not consider English to be their first language may be able to have teaching in that language at school. Although there is no requirement for local education authorities or governing bodies to provide it, you could find out if they have a policy and if so, try to get them to enforce the policy. If they don't already have a policy, you could try persuade them to draw up a suitable policy.

A pupil for whom English is not their first language may need extra tuition to improve their standard of written and spoken English. There is no requirement for local education authorities or governing bodies to teach English as a second language. However, you could find out if the local education authority or governing body has a policy and if so, try to get them to enforce the policy. If they don't already have a policy, you could try persuade them to draw up a suitable policy.

Welsh

Welsh is a subject in the national curriculum and is compulsory at all schools in Wales for pupils up to the age of 16. It is taught either as a second language (in English medium schools) or as a first language (in Welsh medium schools).

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Sex education

Policy about sex education depends on the sort of school the pupil is attending.

For more information about different types of school, see Types of school.

In most primary schools, governing bodies must consider whether to offer sex education and at what age to do this. They must keep a written statement of their sex education policy and make it available to parents on request.

In maintained secondary schools, sex education (including education about HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases) must be provided for all pupils. The governing body must make a written statement of its policy available to parents on request.

If you are the parent of a pupil at any maintained school, you may withdraw your child from all or part of the sex education provided, if you wish, but not from those aspects of the national curriculum which cover the reproductive process, usually in science lessons.

Independent schools are not required to provide sex education.

It is against the law to discriminate against pupils because of their sexual orientation. However, faith schools are still allowed to teach about sex education in line with their religious beliefs as long as this is done in an appropriate way.

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Religious education

Religious education must be taught in all schools, except independent schools. Some schools must teach an agreed syllabus (see below).

Information must be given to parents about the religious education provided at a particular school.

The agreed syllabus for religious education must reflect that religious traditions in England and Wales are mainly Christian, although it must take account of the other principal religions in Britain. Teaching should be non-denominational, which means that teaching should not be about just one particular type of Christianity. However, individual lessons about particular denominations are allowed.

The rules which prohibit discrimination on religious grounds do not cover religious education.

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Collective worship (assembly)

An act of collective worship must take place each school day in community, voluntary and foundation schools. The form the collective worship takes will depend on the type of school.

In a community or foundation school, acts of collective worship, such as assemblies must be of a general Christian nature. However, they must not reflect any one particular type of Christianity, for example, Catholicism.

In a faith school, which is a voluntary or foundation school, collective worship must reflect the faith of the school.

In England and Wales, for more information about faith schools, see under the heading Religious discrimination in schools and colleges, in Discrimination because of religion or belief.

City technology colleges (CTCs) do not have to hold a daily act of collective worship but they are expected to make appropriate provision.

Independent schools do not have to hold a daily act of collective worship.

If your child is at a state school and you don’t want them to attend collective worship you have the right to ask the school to withdraw them. The school must agree with your request. You can also arrange for your child to have time off school to attend alternative worship or religious instruction. The school will normally expect you to arrange this for the beginning or end of the school day.

If your child is in the sixth form, they can decide themselves whether or not to withdraw from collective worship.

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Homework

Pupils do not legally have to do homework.

In England, headteachers are allowed to decide whether or not their pupils require homework and how much. This means they are allowed to make their own homework policies.

In Wales and Northern Ireland, schools are encouraged to draw up detailed policies for homework, reflecting government guidelines. These policies should set out any sanctions for not doing homework. If the pupil does not do homework that has been set in these circumstances, the school could argue that the pupil is in breach of school policy and rules and could take steps to discipline them, as long as the policy and rules are clearly stated and reasonable.

You may be concerned that your child is being given too much or too little homework. If the school has a homework policy, you should check this to find out how much homework is set and how much time the school expects a pupil to spend on it.

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Home-school agreements (HSA)

All schools must have a written home-school agreement (HSA). This is a document drawn up by the school's governing body in consultation with the parents. The HSA should deal with issues like attendance, discipline and behaviour, homework and complaints.

The governing body must take all reasonable steps to make sure that the HAS is signed by all parents, and pupils may also be invited to sign. But if you refuse or fail to sign, you or their children should not be penalised in any way. The terms of the HSA are not legally binding. HSAs must be monitored and periodically reviewed. As a parent, you should be consulted before any revision is made and then invited to sign the new agreement.

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Charging for education

What schools must provide free of charge

All schools, except independent schools, must provide free education and cannot charge for any activity (or materials, books, exam entry fees or equipment for use in connection with an activity) which:

  • is an essential part of the national curriculum or religious education syllabus; or
  • is an essential part of the syllabus for a prescribed examination; or
  • takes place wholly or mainly during school hours.

What activities can the school charge for

A charge can always be made for an activity which is organised by someone other than the local education authority or governing body, for example, a visit to the theatre arranged by a theatre company. It doesn't matter if the activity takes place during school hours or not.

The local education authority and governing body must draw up a charging policy which sets out the activities for which a charge can be made. The policy must include information about remissions, that is, when charges will not be made, for example, for parents on a low income.

The school or the local education authority can ask for voluntary contributions towards activities and the policies must give details of voluntary charges that can be requested. For example, it's common practice for schools to ask for a voluntary contribution from parents towards the cost of activities, school equipment or towards school funds generally. Every request to parents for voluntary contributions must make the voluntary nature of the contribution quite clear and must state that the children of parents who don't contribute will not be discriminated against.

Sometimes a school may ask for voluntary contributions to an activity or trip and will specify that the trip will not go ahead unless the majority of parents agree to contribute. Parents may experience this as unfair pressure but it does not amount to discrimination.

If, as a parent, you have a problem about being asked to pay for activities, you might want to seek specialist advice, for example from a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

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Access to school records

Local education authorities and schools must keep information on each pupil’s educational progress. They may also keep a record of other information, for example, about the pupil’s medical history, family background, personality and predictions of future potential. The way in which the information is stored will vary between local education authorities and individual schools. Some will store all the information on computer, while others will keep manual records.

The people who have the right to see school records are the pupil themselves and their parents. You must be allowed to see your child’s school record if you make a written request to do so. You must also be supplied with a copy of the record if you ask for it in writing. It should be supplied free of charge or at no greater cost than that of photocopying/postage.

In Wales, the head teacher can arrange for the record to be translated into Welsh, English or any other language that they feel to be appropriate. If a fee is charged for the translated record, it should be no greater than for the original record.

The record must be disclosed within 15 days of receiving the written request for it.

If you think that any part of the school record is inaccurate, write to the local education authority or school holding the record. If the school record is inaccurate, it must be amended.

School records will not be disclosed if:

  • the record would give information about another pupil
  • the record holder believes that disclosure would cause serious harm to the pupil in question or to someone else
  • the record holder believes the record is relevant to whether the pupil is at risk of child abuse or has been a victim of child abuse.

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General appearance

Some schools have rules about pupils’ general appearance, for example, pupils may not be allowed to wear make-up or jewellery. A school can have a policy on general appearance as long as it is reasonable and does not discriminate against certain pupils. You can find out what the school’s policy is by asking the head teacher or the governing body.

Schools should be sensitive to religious, cultural and discrimination issues.

School uniform

There is no legal requirement that a pupil must wear school uniform. However, in England and Wales there is government guidance about school uniforms. The guidance encourages schools to have a uniform, although it is up to the school governing body to decide whether there should be one.

If the school does have a policy on school uniform, it must not discriminate against pupils because of race, sex, sexual orientation, disability or religion. It must also take account of human rights law.

Government guidance says a school uniform policy should be fair and reasonable. It should ensure that the uniform chosen is affordable. A uniform should not be so expensive that it prevents a pupil from applying to or attending a school. A school should consider the cost of including branded items and items in unusual colours or shades before insisting that they must be worn.

You can find out what a school’s policy on school uniform is by asking the head teacher or the governing body.

For more details of the government guidance on school uniforms, in England go to the Department for Education's website at: www.education.gov.uk.

The guidance for Wales is on the Welsh Government website at: http://new.wales.gov.uk.

In Wales, children who are entitled to free school meals may get a school uniform grant.

For more information about help with school clothing, see Help with school costs.

In Northern Ireland, a school clothing allowance is payable by local education authority for pupils whose parents get Income Support or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance. This grant applies only to pupils at grant-aided secondary and grammar schools and special schools (day pupils only). There is a set amount for this grant.

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Meals at school

All schools must make provision for meals in the middle of the day. This means that a school must provide free supervised facilities for pupils to eat a packed lunch and may provide school meals for all pupils. A school which decides to provide school meals for all pupils can decide how much to charge.

Meals provided by all local authority schools must meet certain standards which are aimed at making the meals healthier.

You can get more information about the government standards for food served in schools in England from the School Food Trust at: www.schoolfoodtrust.org.uk.

In Wales, further details are available from the Welsh Government website at: http://new.wales.gov.uk. Or go to the website of the Nutrition Network for Wales website at: www.nutritionnetworkwales.org.uk.

Schools should provide special diets if your child needs one, for example, for medical or religious reasons.

For information about free school meals, see under the heading Free school meals in Help with the costs of education.

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Discrimination in schools

Sexual harassment and sex discrimination at school

Sexual harassment can be described as unacceptable behaviour of a sexual nature or behaviour based on someone’s sex which is unwelcome. This could include unwanted comments of a sexual nature or inappropriate touching.

Incidents of sexual harassment by pupils or teachers in the first instance should be reported to the head teacher. Sexual harassment by a teacher is considered to be gross misconduct and could lead to the teacher’s dismissal. Sexual harassment can also amount to a criminal offence .

Some schools might deal with sexual harassment by pupils as if it were a bullying issue.

Sex discrimination is where someone is treated less favourably  because of their sex than someone of the opposite sex would be treated in the same circumstances. It applies to both girls and boys. If your child has been sexually discriminated against at school, for example, your daughter is not allowed to do technology just because she is a girl, get advice about what action you can take.

For more information about making a complaint about sex discrimination, see Taking action against sex discrimination.

Racial harassment and race discrimination at school

A pupil may be a victim of racial abuse and violence from other pupils, either on the school premises or on the way to or from school. It is important that parents bring all incidents to the head teacher’s attention. Head teachers have the power to regulate pupils' behaviour off school premises if this is reasonable. This includes racist behaviour from pupils on their way to and from school.

State schools should have clear anti-racist policies and should take positive steps to discourage race discrimination and stop racist attacks.  If the local education authority has an adviser with special responsibility for race issues, you should also report racist incidents to them.

If a school does not have an anti-racist policy or is unwilling to take steps to prevent race discrimination or racist attacks, you should get advice from a specialist organisation about how to take further action. You may want to tell the police if a criminal offence is involved, for example, if your child is being assaulted.

If your child has suffered racist abuse at school you can report it to the police as a hate incident or hate crime.

For more information on hate crime, see Hate crime.

For information about race discrimination, see Taking action about race discrimination.

For information about specialist organisations which may be able to help, see Education: organisations which give information and advice.

Disability discrimination at school

In England and Wales, it is against the law for any school or provider of education, including colleges, to discriminate against disabled pupils. This includes pupils who are applying to attend and past pupils. Schools have these duties in addition to their duties towards pupils with special educational needs. Local education authorities must develop plans to make schools accessible to disabled pupils.

If your child is experiencing problems with access or admission to a school, you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

If your child has suffered disability related abuse at school you can report it to the police as a hate incident or hate crime. For more information on hate crime, see Hate crime.

For more information on disability discrimination, see Disability discrimination.

Discrimination because of sexual orientation

It is against the law for a school, college or local education authority to discriminate against pupils who are lesbian or gay or who are the children of lesbian or gay parents. For example, it is against the law for a school to prevent a pupil taking part in a residential school trip because he is perceived as being gay. Bullying lesbian or gay pupils, or pupils who are perceived to be lesbian or gay, is against the law.

These rules apply to all schools, including faith schools..However, it is not against the law for faith schools to teach that their particular  faith says that same-sex relationships are wrong.

Our daughter is being bullied at school because we are gay. We complained to her teacher who said it was 'just teasing'. The school takes bullying for other reasons very seriously and deals with it firmly. How can we deal with this situation?

This could be direct discrimination because of sexual orientation. Use the normal complaints procedures and if these have no effect, get advice about the possibility of taking legal action.

If you're being discriminated against because of sexual orientation, you could contact an organisation called Education Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH) which has a free helpline. The helpline number is: 0808 1000 143 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 4.30 pm).

If your child has suffered abuse at school because of sexual orientation you can report it to the police as a hate incident or hate crime. For more information on hate crime, see Hate crime.

For more information about discrimination because of sexual orientation, see Discrimination because of sexual orientation.

If you are a pupil or parent who is experiencing discrimination at school because of sexual orientation, you should talk to an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

Discrimination because of religion or belief in schools

It is against the law for a school, college  or local education authority to discriminate against a pupil or against the parents of a pupil because of their religion or belief. Discrimination against someone with no religion is also against the law. There are some exceptions to the general rules.  For example, when admitting pupils, faith schools may still give priority to pupils of that faith.

In England and Wales, for more information about religious discrimination in schools, see Discrimination because of religion or belief.

If you are a pupil or parent who is experiencing discrimination at school because of your religion, or because you have no religion, you should talk to an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

If your child has suffered abuse at school because of religion you can report it to the police as a hate incident or hate crime. For more information on hate crime, see Hate crime.

Discrimination in schools because of gender reassignment

In England and Wales, it is against the law for a school, college or other education provider to discriminate against someone who is undergoing gender reassignment.

Gender reassignment is where you are changing from one sex to another.

It is also illegal to discriminate against you if you are intending to undergo or have already undergone gender reassignment. You do not have to be undergoing medical treatment.

For example, it may be discrimination for a school to refuse to allow a transsexual pupil to wear clothes appropriate to the gender they are changing to.

If your child has suffered abuse because of gender reassignment at school you can report it to the police as a hate incident or hate crime. For more information on hate crime, see Hate crime.

In England and Wales, for more information about discrimination because of gender reassignment, see Taking action about sex discrimination.

Discrimination in schools because of pregnancy or maternity

In England and Wales, it is against the law for a school, college or other education provider to discriminate against a student because she is pregnant or has had a baby within the last 26 weeks. For example, a pupil should not be prevented from attending school because she is pregnant. If she is unable to attend school because of pregnancy or because she has had a baby she should be provided with some alternative form of education.

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Discipline and punishment

In England, the governing body is responsible for drawing up the school’s policy on discipline and punishment. The head teacher must publicise the policy to pupils and parents. The policy must be designed to promote good behaviour and deter bad behaviour and must include details of how the school will act to prevent all forms of bullying (see under heading Bullying).

Government guidance says that a school's policy on discipline and punishment must show their commitment to getting rid of all forms of discrimination, harassment and bullying. The policy should also show the school's commitment to equality of opportunity for all pupils.

The policy should make sure that vulnerable pupils get the support they need. Vulnerable pupils include:

  • pupils with special educational needs
  • pupils with physical or mental health problems
  • migrant and refugee pupils
  • pupils who are being looked after by the local authority.

Pupils in all of these groups may show difficult behaviour and their specific needs should be covered by the discipline and punishment policy of the school.

My son was given detention because the teacher said he disrupted the class. There was a loud noise outside in the street and he was frightened because he was reminded of difficult things that happened to him in his past - we are political refugees. He started to scream and run away, but he didn't mean to be disruptive.

Detention is not appropriate in this case. It would be better for his teacher to let the class know that there are special circumstances and to offer your son reassurance and support. Try talking to the school and refer them to the government guidance on their discipline policy. If this does not help, talk to a specialist adviser about what further action you can take.

A pupil can be disciplined by a member of staff in charge of them whether or not they are on school premises, for example, if they are on a school trip.

The head teacher and teachers can use reasonable non-physical means to punish a pupil for unacceptable conduct or behaviour. Any punishment must be fair, reasonable and within the school’s policy. Examples of reasonable punishment are extra work during school hours or being told off.

Detention

Detention after school hours is allowed, whether or not a parent consents to the detention, as long as:

  • a school has made it known to both pupils and parents that the detention of pupils at the end of the school day is one of its disciplinary measures, and
  • the detention is carried out by the head teacher or another authorised teacher, and
  • the detention is ‘reasonable’, for example, the pupil’s age and any special educational or religious needs are taken into account, and
  • the school takes the pupil’s safety into account by considering, for example, when it will get dark, the availability of public transport to get home and the likelihood of racist attack, and
  • the pupil is aged under 18, and
  • the detention is on a school day or in England, also on a Saturday or Sunday during term time as long as it isn't just before or after half term or a day set aside for staff training, and
  • in Wales, the pupil’s parent has been given 24 hours' written notice that a detention is due to take place (this doesn't apply to lunchtime detentions)

In Wales, guidance on the use of detention is available on the Welsh Government website at: www.new.wales.gov.uk.

If a pupil is injured or killed as a result of being kept in after school and, for example, having to travel home later on their own, the local education authority or governing body may have been negligent and be liable to pay compensation to the parent.

A pupil can be disciplined by a member of staff in charge of them whether or not they are on school premises, for example, if they are on a school trip.

Confiscation of items

This information applies only to schools in England and Northern Ireland.

Disciplinary penalties may include confiscation and/or disposal of items like MP3 players or mobile phones. The confiscation has to be reasonable in the circumstances. For example, government guidance states that if a pupil is playing loud music on a personal music player, it would be reasonable to take it away and return it at the end of the day. But it would not be reasonable to destroy it.

Corporal punishment

A member of staff can use reasonable physical force to break up a fight between pupils or to stop pupils endangering themselves, other pupils or school property or to prevent a pupil from committing a criminal offence.

Corporal punishment is against the law in all schools (including independent schools) and for children in nursery education.

If you are concerned about the use of physical punishment, you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

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Disruptive behaviour

The way in which a school deals with a pupil with disruptive behaviour varies widely and behaviour which one school considers to be disruptive may not be defined as disruptive by another.

Schools must also consider the personal circumstances of pupils before they decide what action to take. For example, their policy about how they deal with disruptive behaviour must show that they are aware of the special needs that many vulnerable children might have. Some schools have special units attached to the school which specialise in helping pupils with disruptive behaviour.

A pupil’s disruptive behaviour may be one of the factors why a child does not attend school. For example, they may have been temporarily or permanently excluded from school or they may be truanting from school. If a child is not attending school, the local education authority still has a duty to provide suitable education. Some local education authorities provide education in special units called Pupil Referral Units (PRU).

A school may also try to deal with disruptive pupils by exempting them from part or all of the national curriculum so they can take part in other activities. For example, pupils from the age of 14 may be exempted from certain subjects so they can attend a course at a college of further education or to take part in a work-place based programme.

For more information about education out of school for pupils from the age of 14, see Compulsory school age in Access to education.

Disruptive behaviour away from school premises

Head teachers have the power to regulate pupils' behaviour off school premises if this is reasonable. This includes disruptive behaviour from pupils on their way to and from school. Although schools can regulate misbehaviour off school premises, they can only give punishments such as detention when the pupil is on the school site or under the control of a member of staff, for example, on a school trip. Otherwise pupils can't be punished until they are back at school.

In Wales the Travel Behaviour Code sets out what behaviour is expected from pupils travelling to or from school or college. It applies to all types of transport to school or college, for all pupils aged 5 to 19.

Pupils who go by bus to school or college, must also follow the rules in the School Bus Travel Behaviour, part of the Code.

The Code will be part of the school's behaviour policy and not following the code can result in disciplinary action. This could include exclusion from school or loss of the right to use school transport. You can read the code on the Welsh Government website at www.wales.gov.uk.

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Weapons at school

It is a criminal offence to carry knives, guns or any other offensive weapon on school property.

The police can search pupils at school and arrest anyone they have good reason to believe is carrying an offensive weapon. They can also take the weapon away and keep it. The police can use reasonable force to do this.

The police must follow certain guidelines when they search a school or someone at a school. These are called the Police and Criminal Evidence Codes of Practice.

A head teacher, or someone else authorised by the head teacher, can search a pupil if they have good reason to believe that the pupil is carrying a knife, blade or other offensive weapon. In addition, in England, a pupil can also be searched for drugs, alcohol, stolen items, tobacco and cigarette papers, fireworks, pornographic images, any item that may be used to commit an offence, or items banned under school rules. They can search the pupil, even if the pupil doesn't agree to be searched, A pupil can be searched either on school premises or somewhere else where the person doing the search is in charge of the pupil, for example, on a school trip. The staff can search their belongings, but can't ask the pupil to remove any clothing other than outer clothing.

If a knife or other weapon is found, it can be taken away from the pupil. It must be handed over to the police as soon as possible.

In England, if alcohol, drugs or stolen items are seized, they must be handed to the police as soon as possible. If pornographic images are seized, they may be disposed of, and in certain circumstances be handed over to the police as soon as possible. Staff may search mobile phones and may erase data or files if there is good reason to do so.

Schools can now also require pupils to be screened for weapons, using 'airport-style' metal detector arches and wands. Pupils can be screened, even if there is no reason to believe they have a weapon and they haven't agreed to be searched.

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Drugs in school

Every maintained school should have a drugs education programme. This should be suitable for the age and ability of the pupils.

All maintained schools should have a drugs policy setting out the ways in which the school will deal with drugs on school property. A school may tell the police if illegal drugs are found at the school, or if they suspect that illegal drugs are on the property.

In England, government guidelines say that school staff can search a pupil and their possessions without their consent if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the pupil has illegal drugs. However, they can't ask the pupil to remove any clothing other than outer clothing. A pupil's possessions can only be searched in the presence of the pupil and another member of staff.

If school staff find illegal drugs they must hand these over to the police as soon as possible unless there is a good reason not to. In this case, the drugs must be disposed of.

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Truancy

All schools must note in their attendance register whether a pupil of compulsory school age is absent with or without permission. If you find out that your child is truanting, you should try to sort out the problem as soon as possible by talking to the school. Talk to your child’s teacher to start with.

All local education authorities have an Education Welfare Officer (EWO) who can be asked by the school to visit a pupil at home. The EWO will try to find out why the pupil is truanting and offer advice. The school will then keep the EWO informed about the pupil’s attendance at school.

In England and Wales, where a pupil fails to attend school regularly, the local education authority or the school's governing body can enter into a parenting contract with the parent. This sets out steps that you agree to take to improve your child's attendance. It isn't compulsory to enter into a parenting contract but if you don't agree or fail to keep to the terms of a contract you have signed, further action might be taken.

If the pupil continues to truant, the EWO will make regular visits to the pupil’s home and, if there is no improvement, may send you a warning that court action will be taken against you. A school can exclude a pupil from school for persistent truancy, although in practice this is rare.

In England and Wales, local education authorities, head teachers and the police also have the power to issue a penalty notice if a pupil is truanting. If the penalty notice is not paid, the local education authority can decide to prosecute. If you disagree with the penalty notice, you can go to court and argue your case. Penalty notices must comply with a code of conduct drawn up by the local education authority and if the local education authority has not yet drawn up a code of conduct, it cannot issue a penalty notice.

If the police believe that your child is of compulsory school age and is absent from school without permission, they can take your child back to school or to another place designated by the local educational authority. If you believe that the police have acted unreasonably when they do this, you should make a complaint.

If you wish to complain about the police or the local education authority (Education and Library Board in Northern Ireland) you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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Bullying

Government guidance says that bullying means behaviour by an individual or group, repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally. Bullying can take many forms, including cyber-bullying and is often motivated by prejudice against certain groups or because another child is seen as different.

Government guidance says that state schools should have an anti-bullying policy which sets out the way that bullying should be dealt with in the school. This includes:

  • bullying related to race, religion and culture
  • bullying pupils with disabilities or special educational needs
  • sexist bullying and harassment
  • bullying pupils because of their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation
  • cyberbullying (the use of mobile phones and the internet to bully pupils).

If there is no policy, you should contact the head teacher.

In England, the Government Guidance says that schools should discipline pupils who bully, whether inside or outside the school premises. At the same time, the school should look at why they bully and identifying whether they themselves need help.

If bullying is so serious that your child is too frightened to go to school, or you fear for your child’s safety, you may wish to keep your child at home. However, this might be in breach of your duty to provide your child with a suitable education. If your child is too unwell to attend school because of fear or stress, your child should go to the doctor's and the doctor should be asked to provide medical evidence for the school. If your child cannot get a medical certificate, you should make sure that in any letters you write to the school you state that, in your opinion, it is not reasonable for your child to attend school because of bullying.

If the bullying is extremely serious and the bully is over the age of ten, the bully could be prosecuted for a criminal offence, for example, assault or harassment. If the school has been unable to stop the bullying, you may wish to report the matter to the police.

If you’ve suffered abuse at school this may also be a hate incident or hate crime. You can report a hate incident or crime to the police. For more information on hate crime, see Hate crime.

If the police will not act, or if the bully is under the age of ten, you could seek advice from a solicitor about other legal action. For example, it may be possible to take legal action for negligence against the school and the local education authority for failure in their duty of care to the pupil.

In England, guidance about bullying for parents, pupils and teachers is available from the Department for Education at: www.education.gov.uk.

In Wales, guidance is available on the Welsh Government website at: wales.gov.uk.

For more information about other organisations which can help, see Education: organisations which give information and advice.

For more information about organisations which can help parents, see Education: organisations which give information and advice.

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Safety at school and on school trips

Schools do not have to provide insurance cover for accidents to pupils. You may wish to arrange individual accident insurance for your child and may be able to get information and advice on doing this from your local education authority. Some local education authorities have negotiated special terms with insurance companies. You could also get information on suitable policies from an insurance broker.

Teachers have a duty of care towards pupils while they are on the school premises or taking part in a school activity, for example, a visit to a local swimming pool or a school trip away. This duty of care will apply even if you have given permission for your child to take part in the activity. You should inform the school if your child has a medical condition or disability which means that they are more likely to be injured or that extra care should be taken, for example, if your child has haemophilia. All accidents should be recorded by the school.

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Education during and after pregnancy

If your child can't attend school because of pregnancy, the local education authority still has a duty to provide suitable alternative education, for example, home tuition. It would be reasonable to expect a minimum of ten hours a week. However, in practice the provision is often more limited. Many local education authorities provide only one session per week and others none at all. However, lack of resources is not a sufficient reason for the local education authority to fail to provide suitable alternative education.

If you feel that your child is not receiving suitable education because of pregnancy, you should consider taking specialist advice about what action can be taken.

For more information about organisations which can give information and advice, see Education: organisations which give information and advice.

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Exclusion from school

The procedures which can be used to exclude a pupil from school, and the procedures by which you can challenge the decision, vary according to the sort of school your child attends. However, there is government guidance which deals with discipline and punishment, and the school must follow this when it is deciding whether or not to exclude a pupil.

Different terms are used in different schools when a pupil has been excluded, but generally the following definitions are used:

  • temporary exclusion (suspension): this is usually done for disciplinary reasons and is for a fixed period - see below
  • permanent exclusion (expulsion): this usually means that the pupil has been told they may no longer attend a particular school because of serious breach of discipline, or for continual disruptive behaviour - see below.

It is against the law for the school to discriminate, for example because of race, sex or disability when deciding whether to exclude your child. If you think that discrimination is involved in the exclusion of your child, make sure you mention this as soon as possible in any complaint you make.

My son has been excluded from school because he got into a fight with other boys in his class. He says he was just trying to defend himself and he's never been in trouble before. None of the other boys, who are all white, were punished. I can't help thinking that race discrimination is involved – we are from a Caribbean background.

It is against the law to discriminate against your son because of his race. Get advice from a specialist organisation about what action you can take about race discrimination.

If you are the parents of a child who is facing exclusion or who has already been excluded, you may find it useful to contact a specialist organisation for support and advice.

For more information about organisations which can give information and advice, see Education: organisations which give information and advice.

In England, if your child has been excluded, you have a duty to control where they go during school hours. This applies for the first five days of exclusion. If your child is found, for example, in the town centre, in a park, in the street or outside the school gates, you will have committed a criminal offence unless you have a good reason for allowing your child to be there. You can be prosecuted by the local education authority and fined. Alternatively, you may get a penalty notice. You should pay the fine by the date on the notice. If you disagree with the fine you can ask for a court hearing and argue your case.

Temporary exclusion

A pupil cannot be excluded temporarily for more than 45 days in any one school year. Exclusions of more than 15 school days should be used rarely and generally a first exclusion of one to three days would be appropriate. A pupil is usually excluded temporarily if they are in breach of school discipline, for example, they refuse to wear the correct school uniform. If a pupil is excluded for more than one or two days, the head teacher should arrange for the pupil to receive school work to do at home and to have it marked when they return to school.

Permanent exclusion

A pupil may be permanently excluded for a serious breach of school discipline. A head teacher may decide to exclude a pupil permanently if the offence is extremely serious, even though they have never been excluded on a temporary basis. Where the head teacher needs to conduct an investigation into an incident, they may initially exclude a pupil for a fixed period and then, once they have all the facts, convert the fixed period exclusion into a permanent exclusion.

If a child has been permanently excluded, the local authority must make sure that other suitable education is provided from the sixth day of their exclusion (in Wales from the 15th day).

In England, the local authority doesn’t have to provide other suitable education for a pupil if:

  • they will stop compulsory education within the next six weeks and
  • they don’t have any more public examinations or assessments to complete.

In England, the local authority will only provide part-time education for a pupil if they have physical or mental health needs which mean it would not be in their best interests to receive full-time education. This could be, for example, if a pupil develops a chronic illness or has a disability after an accident.

Parenting orders

In England and Wales, a local education authority can apply to the magistrates' court for a parenting order covering the parents of a child who has been excluded from school. If a parenting order is made, it means that you, as the parent, have to exercise control over the child and attend counselling or a guidance programme. If you fail to keep to the terms of a parenting order without a good reason, you are guilty of a criminal offence and could be fined.

A local education authority or a school governing body may also apply for a parenting order even if a pupil has not been excluded from school, but has behaved in such a way that they could have been excluded.

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Exam results

If you are unhappy about results of examinations or assessments, the way to deal with the problem depends on whether the exams are internal or external.

Internal exams

If the exams are internal, you or your child can approach the teacher, head teacher or governing body. You do not usually have an explicit right to have the results of internal exam looked at again.

External exams

If you wish to query a Key Stage test, you should speak to the school. If the school believes there has been an error in the marking, it can submit a request for a review to the external marking agency.

If you are unhappy with the results of external exams such as GCSEs or A levels, you can ask the head teacher to submit an 'enquiry on results’ or appeal to the examinations board. An enquiry can simply take the form of a quick clerical check or can lead to the re-examining and re-marking of the course work element. The head teacher must submit an enquiry on results to the examining board no later than 20 September following the summer GCSE/A level examinations.

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Resits

Pupils have the right to resit an exam they have missed or where they wish to improve their grade. In practice, the availability of resits depends on the school's policy. For example, some pupils may have to pay their own examination fee for a resit.

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