11th October 1996 at 01:00
Q. Recently, a pupil, who had behaved very badly in the classroom over a considerable period, was punished by being placed in isolation from his peers for a whole school day.

His parents are complaining to everyone they can think of, saying that the school has no right to do this and that it is humiliating and inhumane. Do they have any case?

A. Without being in possession of all the facts, one can never be entirely sure but, on the face of it, the parents of this pupil would make better use of their time and energy discussing with the school how they can help them to ensure that their child is less disruptive.

The school has the right, upheld in the past by the courts, to enforce reasonable standards of discipline by the use of punishment, such punishment being reasonable and in proportion to the gravity of the misconduct. The tests of reasonableness and proportionality which a court would use, if the school were to be challenged in law, would be based on what was generally accepted custom and practice in schools and on what a reasonable parent might do in punishing their own child. The court would have regard also to the age of the child and to any other material circumstances.

The court would be most unlikely to accept that any individual parent had the right to dictate what the school could do or could not do in this respect. Whether it was a humiliating or inhumane punishment would depend on the actual circumstances, but, given that many parents would consider sending their child to his or her room, deprived of the company of others, a thoroughly normal response to unacceptable behaviour, I find it hard to believe that the parents in this case would succeed.

Questions should be sent to Helpline, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171 782 3200 e-mail: letters@tes1.demon.

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