Think before you penalise

6th October 2000 at 01:00
NOW that schools have a duty to observe pupils' and parents' rights under the new law, will detention go the same way as corporal punishment?

Probably not, but there is a lobby which argues that the statutory authority schools have had since 1997 to detain pupils without the consent of parents, is false imprisonment contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Defenders of the detention point to a number of safeguards in the 1997 Act. They are:

all parents, pupils and staff must know that detention will be used as a sanction in appropriate circumstances

detention must be "reasonable"

parents must be given 24-hours written notice, with details of where, when and for how long the detention will be. This enables parents to make representations, and arrange to get the child home afterwards.

The Convention also defends parents' right to inist teaching their children conforms to their religious and philosophical convictions. In a landmark corporal punishment case in 1982, the European Court held that the parents' objection constituted a "philosophical conviction". This was understandable, as corporal punishment had been subjected to moral argument.

The same is not yet true of detention. It is difficult to see sensible parents objecting to it "in principle" - but they may object to a particular detention.

Whether a detention is reasonable will depend on the facts, but the legal definition of "reasonableness" is that the action by the school must be such that anyone aware of all the facts would consider it to be reasonable.

So, before putting a child in detention consider not only the likely reaction of their parents but also what the ordinary person in the street would think of it.

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