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Behaviour & Discipline

Behaviour & discipline

Schools have the power to discipline or punish students if they break a school rule or a teacher’s instruction. Generally, the school gets to decide what rules are necessary for your education or to keep you safe, but there are some limits. While schools’ powers are pretty wide, schools do not have absolute freedom to punish students whenever they think they should punish a student.

How do I know what the school rules are?

School rules at state and integrated school have to be clear and certain so that it’s obvious whether you’re following them or not.

Most schools give you or your parents a copy of the school rules soon after your first day of school. If you’re not sure what the rules are or have lost your copy of the school rules, you can ask for a copy from the reception or your dean.

What sort of behaviour would get me into trouble at school?

Every school has slightly different expectations of their students and each school sets its own school rules. Sometimes what one school may find acceptable, another school may find completely unacceptable. However, most schools will have rules against actions like fighting, bullying, disrespecting the teacher, swearing, smoking, drinking alcohol, watching inappropriate materials, taking drugs, stealing, disrupting other students from learning, vandalism, bringing weapons or prohibited items to school to name a few examples.

The school will likely also have rules about the uniform, completing work, missing school and other rules that help the day-to-day running of the school.

What types of punishments do schools use?

The sorts of punishment vary between different schools, but generally, these may include but are not limited to:

  • daily report or behaviour contracts
  • apologies
  • time out
  • detentions
  • being made to write essays or lines
  • being made to pick litter up around school/helping out around the school
  • taking away your privileges – like going on an optional sports camp
  • stand downs and suspensions

Can I be made to sign a behaviour contract at school?

No. You can never be forced to sign any document – you always have a choice. However if the school asks you to sign a behaviour contract as a disciplinary action, and you don’t sign the contract, further disciplinary action may be taken by the school.

However, if you’ve recently been suspended, and you were allowed back at school with conditions. If one of those conditions was signing a behaviour contract (as long as it was reasonable and achievable by you), then you may have to sign the behavioural contract to meet the condition to remain at the current school.

I want to enrol at a school but they want me or my parents to sign a contract first. Is this allowed?

If the school is a private school or a state integrated school, then yes this is probably allowed and may be required before you start attending school there.

If it’s your local public school (that you are in-zone for) or it has no zone, then you should just be able to enrol (provided you meet the general criteria of age and residency, and aren’t excluded or expelled) and not have to sign any contract. There will be documents you or your parents will have to fill out though, which may include information like your name, date of birth, any medical conditions and other basic information which the school must have for administrative and safety purposes.

What should be in a behaviour contract?

The Ministry of Education has said that contracts developed with students and their carers should be two-way agreements which not only show conditions which the student and their parents agree to but also shows the school’s duty to provide good guidance and counselling for the student.

I signed a behaviour contract, what happens if I break it?

It depends on the school and what type of contract you have signed.

If you’ve signed a contract after returning from suspension and you breached the conditions; the school could hold a reconsideration meeting and you may possibly get kicked out of school.

If it’s a contract only because you have had some trouble or need extra help, they may decide to discipline you in the normal way (detention or talking to you or your parents) or they could decide to take more serious action like a stand-down or suspension if it’s serious enough or has happened a number of times.

What are daily reports?

Daily Report is a method of discipline. If you have a daily report, generally your teachers must sign your report after each class and they can comment on your behaviour within class in the report. You may also have to bring it home for your parents to sign every day so they can see your progress at school.

If you keep behaving poorly while on a daily report, you will likely be further disciplined. However, that discipline cannot be an automatic stand-down or suspension, as the principal must think about all the details of your situation before deciding whether a stand-down or suspension is the right response.

Are teachers allowed to discipline me by physical punishment?

No, any physical punishment is illegal by any teachers or staff members. Even if your parents or caregiver have given ‘permission’ to your teacher to hit you or to use any physical force against you, this is not allowed. The use of force by anyone can be a criminal assault!

Can teachers use exercise as a punishment?

A few schools still use physical exercise, for example, sit-ups, press-ups or running to discipline students. These punishments are not by themselves illegal, but they can’t be used in a way that is cruel, degrading (humiliating or embarrassing) or disproportionately severe (too harsh) to the student involved.

A student should not be made into a public spectacle, as this may be undignified and degrading discipline. If you think this has happened to you, you may want to consider talking to the school and making a complaint.

Can a teacher punish a whole class?

While there is no specific law that makes it illegal for teachers to keep a whole class in detention, it’s unreasonable unless everyone has done something wrong. There are a number of laws that point towards this conclusion:

  • The Bill of Rights Act says that nobody can be kept in detention randomly;
  • A fundamental principle of law is that everyone is innocent until proven guilty;
  • The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says no child should have his or her liberty taken away without good reason.

In the new legislation about search and seizure of students’ items. The law does not allow the school to search the whole class as there must be reasonable belief that each student has a harmful item to search a whole class.

Is my teacher allowed to keep me in detention?

Detentions are a common form of discipline in most schools. Detentions involve preventing a student from leaving a particular area for a period of time, usually to do school work or some kind of punishment.

If you’re in detention during a break or over lunchtime, schools must allow time for the bathroom and eating, and should provide you with a safe space to do so. If the teacher thinks you don’t genuinely need to go to the bathroom – e.g. if you went 5 minutes ago, they may keep you in detention for longer or refuse.

A school would normally need the consent of your parents to keep you in detention after school.

What is a time-out?

A time-out is when you’re asked to move somewhere away from other students for a short period of time, like outside the classroom, or in the time-out room, to calm down or to separate disruptive behaviour.

Time-outs are different to seclusions which are now banned under the law. Seclusion is when you’re placed in a room involuntarily, alone and from which you can’t freely exit, or believe you can’t freely exit.

If time-outs are used for long periods of time, too frequently or in too many classes for one student, they may also be illegal. This is because students have a right to an education. If a student is spending a large chunk of the school day out of the classroom then he or she may not be getting much of an education.

Can my school send me home?

It is illegal for schools to send students home from school unless:

  • The student is not currently enrolled;
  • The student has been formally stood-down, suspended, excluded or expelled;
  • The student is not clean enough to attend school or the student has a disease which might be transmitted to others;
  • The school is closed for instruction.

At all other times, schools must do everything they can to ensure that enrolled students attend school, and should not send you home.

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