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Discipline and Punishment

Australian Capital Territory 

This information will apply to you if you go to a state (or government) school in the Australian Capital Territory. If you go to a private or Catholic school, you and your school’s legal rights may be different.

 

Q:  Hi, my name is Andrew and I attend school in the Australian Capital Territory.  When are schools allowed to give punishments and detention?

A: Hi Andrew. The ACT Education and Training Directorate give policy advice to schools, but each school is responsible for making their own rules and to set reasonable punishments for breaking these rules.  For example, if you break a school rule, a teacher can give you detention during lunchtime, free periods or any break during the school day. Detention should not last so long that you don’t have time to eat your lunch or have a break from lessons. 

Schools can punish you for a range of things that break school rules, such as misconduct, not completing homework, disobeying instructions, being disruptive in class, not wearing your uniform correctly and so on.  Your school can give you a range of punishments, including detentions and school service.  Your school may also choose to suspend or exclude you, please see our Suspension and Expulsion Lawstuff pages for more detail.  

Your punishment should not be unfair or unreasonable. You should not be punished by being made to stand in one position for more than a short period, or by having to do an unpleasant job such as cleaning out the toilets. But the school can punish you by making you clean up the classroom, or collect rubbish. You have a right to be treated fairly by your school and not be harassed or discriminated against.  To read more please see our Lawstuff page ‘Discrimination at School’.

Schools in the Australian Capital Territory need to have a Safe Schools Policy which explains the school rules and the consequences if you break them. You could ask for a copy of the policy from the school office or obtain a copy from the school website.

 

Q: Hi, my name is Angus and I go to school in the Australian Capital Territory.  I didn't wear my tie to school and my teacher wouldn't allow me to go on an excursion.  Can the school do this?

A: Hi Angus. Schools are allowed to discipline students for not following the school’s dress code.  This punishment can include things like a detention or the prevention of a student from attending a school activity that is not part of the educational program.  However, schools are not allowed to suspend, exclude or expel you for breaking the dress code. 

When students attend an outside school activity they are often recognised as acting in a representative role. A school will often want their students to wear full school uniform because they believe that the way the students dress and behave is a reflection on the school. Angus, as you were required to wear a tie it sounds like you were required to attend a formal event. If the event wasn’t considered by the principal to be part of the educational program then the school could prevent you from going. Some schools will keep a second hand clothing pool or spare uniform items so that when a student forgets part of their uniform they can borrow an item. If you forget a uniform item again perhaps you can ask at the school office if they have a spare.

 

Q: Hi, my name is Oliver and I attend school in the Australian Capital Territory.  Are there any limits on what sort of punishments my school can give me?

A: Hi Oliver. Yes, there are limits on what a school can do. The Education Act for the Australian Capital Territory says that corporal punishment is not allowed in ACT schools . Corporal punishment is described as physical force applied to punish or correct and includes any action designed or likely to cause physical pain or discomfort taken to punish or correct. This means that they can’t use physical violence (like hitting or slapping), or verbal and emotional harassment (like calling you names, or making fun of you). When they discipline you, school staff must still treat you with respect.

The school can give you a range of punishments, including detentions and school service. Your school may also choose to suspend or exclude you, please see our Suspension and Expulsion Lawstuff pages for more detail.

Schools in the ACT generally favour what is called a restorative approach to resolving conflict. A restorative approach is a method that confronts and disapproves of wrongdoing while supporting and valuing the intrinsic worth of the wrongdoer. This means that schools are required to ensure that the punishment fits the ‘crime.’ 

Your punishment should not be unfair or unreasonable. You should not be punished by being made to stand in one position for more than a short period, or by having to do an unpleasant job such as cleaning out the toilets. But the school can punish you by making you clean up the classroom, or collect rubbish. You have a right to be treated fairly by your school and not be harassed or discriminated against. If you'd like to read more please see our Lawstuff page ‘Discrimination at School’. 


Q: Hi, my name is Annie and I live in the Australian Capital Territory.  I was given a detention to stay back at school for an hour after class but I live quite far from school and the buses home don’t run very often. Is my school allowed to give me a detention like this? 

A: Hi Annie. We’re sorry you were given a detention. Schools are allowed to give students a detention after school hours however they should never be given at a time that places your safety at risk. Generally schools can only give an after school detention for a limited time (e.g. 45 minutes) and at a time that is reasonable to you and your parents. The school will usually be required to notify your parents a minimum of one day ahead. 

Annie, because you live a long way from your school and you are reliant on a bus service to get home your parents would be within their rights to contact the school and ask for a more reasonable time for you to do the detention.


This page was last updated 16 April 2015.


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