Behaviour in schools


Behaviour in schools is an issue which school staff have to contend with on a daily basis.

The Department for Education (DfE) has published ‘Behaviour and Discipline in Schools’ which provides an overview of the powers and duties for school staff. It is for individual schools to develop their own best practice for managing behaviour in their school.

We have already published support articles on the topic of what constitutes ‘reasonable force’ in the classroom and searching pupils at school.

In this support article we provide an overview of the legal powers which school staff have disciplining pupils inside and outside school.

Behaviour in schools: teachers’ powers

The DfE explains:

  • Teachers have statutory authority to discipline pupils whose behaviour is unacceptable, who break the school rules or who fail to follow a reasonable instruction (Section 90 and 91 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006)
  • The power also applies to all paid staff (unless the headteacher says otherwise) with responsibility for pupils, such as teaching assistants
  • Teachers can discipline pupils at any time the pupil is in school or elsewhere under the charge of a teacher, including on school visits
  • Teachers can also discipline pupils in certain circumstances when a pupil’s misbehaviour occurs outside of school
  • Teachers have the power to impose detention outside school hours
  • Teachers can confiscate pupils’ property

Punishing poor behaviour: what the law allows

The DfE explains:

  • Teachers can discipline pupils whose conduct falls below the standard which could reasonably be expected of them. This means that if a pupil misbehaves, breaks a school rule or fails to follow a reasonable instruction the teacher can impose a punishment on that pupil
  • To be lawful, the punishment (including detentions) must satisfy the following three conditions: 1) The decision to punish a pupil must be made by a paid member of school staff or a member of staff authorised by the headteacher 2) The decision to punish the pupil and the punishment itself must be made on the school premises or while the pupil is under the charge of the member of staff 3) It must not breach any other legislation (for example in respect of disability, special educational needs, race and other equalities and human rights) and it must be reasonable in all the circumstances. 
  • A punishment must be proportionate. In determining whether a punishment is reasonable, section 91 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 says the penalty must be reasonable in all the circumstances and that account must be taken of the pupil’s age, any special educational needs or disability they may have, and any religious requirements affecting them
  • The headteacher may limit the power to apply particular punishments to certain staff and/or extend the power to discipline to adult volunteers, for example to parents who have volunteered to help on a school trip
  • Corporal punishment is illegal in all circumstances
  • Schools should consider whether the behaviour under review gives cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm. Where this may be the case, school staff should follow the schools’ safeguarding policy. They should also consider whether continuing disruptive behaviour might be the result of unmet educational or other needs. At this point, the school should consider whether a multi agency assessment is necessary 

Teachers’ powers: managing behaviour outside the school

The DfE explains what the law allows:

  • Teachers have the power to discipline pupils for misbehaving outside of the school premises “to such an extent as is reasonable”
  • Maintained schools and Academies’ behaviour policies should set out what the school will do in response to non-criminal bad behaviour and bullying which occurs off the school premises and which is witnessed by a staff member or reported to the school, including the punishments that will be imposed on pupils
  • Subject to the behaviour policy, teachers may discipline pupils for: misbehaviour when the pupil is: taking part in any school-organised or school-related activity or travelling to or from school or wearing school uniform or in some other way identifiable as a pupil at the school. Or misbehaviour at any time, whether or not the conditions above apply, that: could have repercussions for the orderly running of the school or poses a threat to another pupil or member of the public or could adversely affect the reputation of the school
  • In all cases of misbehaviour the teacher can only discipline the pupil on school premises or elsewhere when the pupil is under the lawful control of the staff member

What does the law say about detentions?

The DfE explains what the law allows:

  • Teachers have the power to issue detention to pupils (aged under 18)
  • Schools must make clear to pupils and parents that they use detention (including detention outside of school hours) as a sanction
  • The times outside normal school hours when detention can be given (the ‘permitted day of detention’) include: a) any school day where the pupil does not have permission to be absent b) weekends – except the weekend preceding or following the half term break c) non-teaching days – usually referred to as ‘training days’, ‘INSET days’ or ‘noncontact days’
  • The headteacher can decide which members of staff can put pupils in detention. For example, they can limit the power to heads of year or heads of department only or they can decide that all members of staff, including support staff, can impose detention

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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
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