School rules are an integral part of daily school life. They promote good behaviour, aim to ensure the safety and welfare of pupils, and prepare them for the wider world. However, the introduction and enforcement of school rules can anger some parents, who may disagree with them. Who decides?

The law unequivocally says that it is the headteacher of maintained schools who must decide the standard of behaviour expected by pupils at the school, determine the school rules, and any disciplinary penalties for breaking them. Academy trusts must ensure that a written policy to promote good behaviour among pupils is drawn up and effectively implemented. The DfE guidance ‘Behaviour  and discipline in schools’, which can be found here, provides guidance to all schools on developing behaviour policies and an overview of the powers and duties  of school staff.

School rules may be wide ranging: from uniform to attendance; but other rules are proving to be more controversial: for example a silence in corridors rule.

One regular flashpoint recently has been the action of schools banning ‘unsuitable’ food and drink from lunchboxes and teachers searching for and confiscating these items to promote healthy eating.

Schools are entitled to conduct a search if they think the child has in his/her possession any prohibited items. A prohibited item would include anything banned by the school rules. In the case of a ban on unhealthy foods and lunchbox inspections, or the imposition of any other rules that may be regarded as unusual, it is important to notify parents. Parents do not have a veto on school rules, however.

What about pupils’ behaviour outside of school? School staff have the power to discipline pupils for misbehaving outside of the school premises ‘to such an extent as is reasonable.’ Behaviour policies should set out what the school will do in response to bad behaviour and bullying off school premises which is reported to the school or witnessed by a member of staff.

Are there limits to schools’ powers? School rules must be lawful in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Equality Act 2010. Consideration must be given to a pupil’s right to respect for their private life. However, this right is not absolute and can be interfered with by a school provided it is justified and proportionate. As with any use of a statutory power, school rules must be rational, reasonable and fair.

Parents and pupils should be aware of the rules that are in place. A copy of the behaviour policy, which is applied consistently and fairly, must be made readily available to parents. Maintained schools are required to publish a copy of their behaviour policy on their website and although academies are not subject to the same legal requirement, it is good practice for them to do the same. If parents have any concerns about the school rules or the way in which they are applied, the school should follow its complaints procedure in dealing with them, informally in the first instance.