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Staff's right to impose penalties

All staff paid to work in any school now have a statutory right to inflict "disciplinary penalties" on pupils. teaching support staff, caretakers, cleaners and administrators are included. Only the head can take away their powers, either wholly or partly. The head can also give the power to unpaid staff - trainees or volunteers.

Legitimate sanctions, first suggested in circular 1099, include removal from the groupclass or particular lesson; withdrawal of break or lunch privileges; detention; withholding participation in educational visits or sports events that are not essential to the curriculum; completion of work or extra work; or carrying out a useful task in the school.

The imposition of a disciplinary penalty is lawful if it satisfies three conditions. First, it must not breach some other statutory requirement, and is reasonable in all the circumstances Second, the penalty must be enforced by a member of staff with the authority to do so. Third, the decision must be taken either on the school premises or elsewhere when the pupil is under the lawful charge of a staff member.

The penalty will be "reasonable" if it constitutes a "proportionate punishment" in the circumstances of the case, and any special circumstances have been taken into account, such as the age of the pupil, any disabilities, special educational needs or religious requirements.

The rules and penalties have to be determined by the head, and must then be publicised in a written document, both within the school and to all parents of pupils. Heads must also bring the rules and penalties to the attention of all staff, parents and pupils at least once in every school year.

Strictly speaking, if these requirements have not been complied with, then staff cannot impose any punishments at all - at least legally.

Chris Lowe, Former headteacher and trade union legal adviser.

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