A school, in line with its safeguarding and employment duties, must deal appropriately with any identified risks to pupils and staff. Occasionally, a school may consider a parent’s behaviour to be such a risk. If so, what is the most appropriate form of action for schools to take? Should they implement a ban from the school premises?
If a school were to ban a parent from accessing the school premises, the parent might question the school’s authority to enforce such a ban, as it is this access which allows the parent to drop off/ collect their child from the school, and attend events such as parents’ evenings. So what is the legal position?
It is an established legal principle that parents have an implied licence to some degree of access to the school their child attends. However, this right of access can be withdrawn by the school if the parent has been threatening or abusive on the school premises towards a pupil or a member of staff; indeed it is enough for a pupil or a member of staff to simply feel threatened.
If the school decides to impose a ban, the school must ensure it acts reasonably. The school should notify the parent of its proposal to implement the ban and must give the parent an opportunity to make written representations. If the ban is imposed with immediate effect due to the severity of the circumstances, the parent must still be given an opportunity to present their side of the story in the form of written representations. The ban should be kept under review, and applied for no longer than is reasonable, taking into account the facts and circumstances surrounding the matter.
If a parent breaches the conditions of the ban this may be constitute a criminal offence under section 547 of the Education Act 1996 (Act). The school can seek to physically remove the parent from the school premises. This removal can be administered by a police officer or a person authorised by the school. The parent may also be liable to a fine of up to £500. It is arguable whether merely trespassing on school premises (in defiance of a ban) is an offence under the Act, however given that being present in defiance of a ban is likely to cause disturbance ‘to the annoyance’ of those who are lawfully present, an offence would appear to be a low bar.
The parent’s ban from the school premises will not automatically extend to communications between the parent and the school. If a parent is sending excessive numbers of emails to the school or calling the school repeatedly, the school may consider taking restrictive measures, for example, stopping all communication between certain staff members and the parent and requiring information to be passed through a single person/email address instead. The school could, for example, state that all emails will be picked up, read and responded to on a weekly basis save in matters of urgency where the school would of course need to ensure it acts in the best interests of the child. Again, all such measures should be reasonable, proportionate and subject to review.
As with managing any difficult issues with parents, schools should bear in mind the parent’s right to make a request for any and all data it holds about them. The school should therefore be prudent in the way it refers to parents in any internal written communications.