School sanctions – what are schools allowed to do?

We regularly hear from parents whose children with special educational needs (SEN) have received a detention and want to know if the school has acted legally.

On this page, we explain what power a school has to issue a penalty such as a detention, what it needs to consider first and what action you can take.

Sanctions a school can put in place include penalties such as loss of privileges, missing break times, setting written tasks as punishment, and detentions. Schools can also exclude pupils. If your child is excluded please see our section on exclusions instead, as different rules apply.

What are schools allowed to do?

Every school will have a behaviour policy. It should be available on its website, and if you can’t find it you should ask to see it. It will say what the school rules are, what it expects from pupils, and what happens if they misbehave (including outside of school, for example, when travelling to and from school).

Teachers can discipline pupils whose conduct falls below the standard which is reasonably expected of them. When poor behaviour is identified, sanctions should be implemented fairly and consistently in line with the behaviour policy. This can include issuing detentions to pupils under 18 years old.

Your child’s school does not need your consent before issuing a penalty including a detention. Detentions can take place during school hours and in some circumstances (and if reasonable to do so) outside of school hours.

My child has SEN. Shouldn’t the school consider this?

Your child’s school must make sure any penalty is issued and imposed lawfully. One of the requirements is that:

  • imposing the penalty is not in breach of any statutory requirement or prohibition (for example in respect of disability or SEN), and
  • it is reasonable in all the circumstances.

When deciding if it is reasonable, schools must consider whether the penalty is a proportionate punishment in the circumstances.

It must also consider any relevant special circumstances which are known (or of which the school ought reasonably to be aware of), including your child’s age, their SEN, and any disability.

Indeed, all schools (including independent ones) must comply with the Equality Act 2010 and make sure they do not discriminate against disabled pupils.

What can I do?

If you feel school did not take into account any underlying causes such as unmet SEN, or whether your child’s SEN or disability contributed to the situation, then you should highlight this to the school and if this does not resolve matters, make a complaint (if disability discrimination is at play, you could make a claim to the SEND Tribunal but first consider whether this is the best path depending on what you want to achieve).

If your child is receiving lots of detentions, this may be a sign that they are not receiving enough support from school or college and it should be doing more to identify and meet their SEN.

You might want to consider asking for an EHC needs assessment too, as this will make sure all their SEN are fully understood and may lead to an EHC plan if necessary. 

If your child already has an EHC plan, lots of school sanctions may indicate that they are not receiving the right level or type of provision. You can try to change the provision set out in section F of their EHC plan by appealing it to the SEND Tribunal if it has been recently issued, or during the annual review. You could also ask for an early review if you feel this is needed.  

If you would like more support, you can book an appointment to speak with us.