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South Australia

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Hi, my name is Donald. I am 15 years old and I live in South Australia. My school is telling me that I must follow a bunch of rules that I could not find anywhere in my diary. I asked the school and they could not find them either! Do I have to follow these rules that the school doesn’t have any proof about?

Answer: Hi Donald,

Principals are responsible for making their school’s rules, in consultation with the school community (teachers, parents and students). There are some limits on what rules they can make for their particular public school.Principals can’t make rules that don’t follow the laws or the set of general rules that the South Australian Department of Education and Child Development thinks are appropriate school rules.

Rules should be clear and consistent: clear so that you know what is and is not allowed at school; and consistent so that you know what is likely to happen if you break the rules. However, this does not mean that school rules need to be stated in a lot of detail.

Once a principal makes rules for the school, they must make sure that the rules are available to students and parents if they request them. Sometimes rules will be outlined in a school diary, but not every rule has to be written in your diary. However, the school must make sure that students and their parents have access to a school behaviour code which sets out expectations for student behaviour and the consequences for misbehaviour.


What are school rules?

School rules are the standards of behaviour the school expects of its students. They tell students, parents and teachers what the school considers important. School rules set out students’ rights and responsibilities.

Some schools have a long list of 'do’s' and 'don’ts' controlling every aspect of school life. Other schools have general rules which set out the basic philosophy of the school and the values it promotes.

The school rules aim to promote a supportive environment at the school, promote an effective teaching and learning environment, foster mutual respect between staff and students, and encourage students to take responsibility for their own behaviour and the consequences of their actions.


Who makes the school rules and where can I find them?

The Department of Education has a ‘School Discipline Policy’, which includes the following responsibilities for principals (note that this policy only applies to public schools):

  • to develop, implement and regularly review, in consultation with the school community and governing council, a school behaviour code which is consistent with the Department's School Discipline Policy,
  • to make sure that staff, students and their families are aware of the school community's negotiated behaviour code and the decision-making procedures open to them if they wish to influence school practice,
  • to make sure that parents or caregivers have access to the Department's School Discipline Policy and related materials, are aware of their rights to advocacy and of avenues open to them if they have complaints about the school's management of student behaviour, and
  • promote structures at class and school level to enable students to be involved in the management of their behaviour.

You can read the SA Department of Education’s School Discipline Policy here:


Can I change the school rules?

Students can’t generally change the school rules, but there are ways in which you can have an influence on school rules:

  • Get a copy of the school behaviour code and any other rules from the office or the school principal;
  • Talk with your friends and fellow students and see if they agree with you that a particular rule or policy is unfair and should be changed;
  • Think through some reasons why you consider the rule is unfair or should be changed, and write down these reasons;
  • Talk to your teacher outside lesson times;
  • Tell the teacher what you consider to be unjust or unfair in a calm and polite manner;
  • Use a peer mediator, member of the executive of the Student Representative Council or a fellow student who you feel comfortable with to talk with your teacher.

If talking to someone in the school does not work, you might need to get help from your parents to contact the South Australian Education Complaints Unit. They are available on 1800 677 435 or you can send them an email at

For help on making a complaint about a teacher or a principal if they cannot help you, see this link:

If you have any other questions, please send us a Lawmail.

Page last updated on 19 June 2015.

Question: Hi, my name is Cecilia, I am 13 years old and go to a private school in South Australia. My teacher asked to see my iPhone so that she could read a message that I sent to a friend. Was my teacher allowed to ask to see my iPhone? What can I do?

Answer: Hi Cecilia,

We're sorry to hear what has happened.

Generally, you are allowed to refuse to let the school search through you bag or messages on your iPhone (unless there are emergency circumstances that make it necessary to do these searches without your permission). But there are situations when the school is allowed to confiscate your bag or personal possessions, such as an iPhone and keep it for a reasonable amount of time.

If you think that you were treated unfairly or unreasonably by the teacher, we suggest that you (and your parents) set up a meeting with the principal to talk about what happened.


Can teachers ask to see messages on my iPhone?

In a private school, you and/or your parents would have signed an enrolment agreement when you started school. Under the enrolment agreement, you and your parents would have agreed to follow the school's rules and policies. It is common for schools to have policies about what you can and cannot bring to school as well as when and how you can use those things.

School policies also include policies that are there to keep students safe and free from harm, including bullying. These policies are usually quite general and can include ways for teachers or other school staff to investigate these issues. This mean that it is important to check what your school’s policy is about bullying and harassment.

At the same time, all schools must follow the Australian Privacy Principles. These principles cover how large private organisations (like some private schools) collect, use, give out, and keep personal information like anything to do with you and your schooling history. This may include the photos of your iPhone.

These privacy principles say that a private school can only ask for personal information if it’s reasonably necessary for one of the school's purposes or activities. If the school has a good reason why they need some personal information from you (such as to look into and investigate a claim that a student has been harassed or bullied), then they are probably allowed to ask for this information under the principles and the school policies.

But, after collecting this information, the school must respect students’ privacy and generally cannot share that information for another purpose (for example, other than safety) without your permission. The information may be shared with another school if that school makes enquiries about you.

You can find a summary of the Privacy Principles here:


What can I do?

If you think that you were treated unfairly or unreasonably by the teacher, we suggest that you (and your parents) set up a meeting with the principal to talk about the teacher's actions and how it has impacted on you. Before your meeting, you can ask the school office for copies of your personal information, bullying and harassment policies and confiscation policies.

You can also print out the Privacy Principles which we provide the link to above. You can ask the principal to explain that you feel like the teacher breached your privacy and ask why the school is collecting the photos of the messages on your iPhone, how it will be used, and how it will be stored to ensure its privacy. You can also tell the principal how you felt about how the teacher treated you.

If you have any other questions, please send us a Lawmail.

Page last updated 19 June 2015.

Question: Hi, my name is Colin. I am 16 years old and live in South Australia. Am I allowed to refuse to be searched by a teacher if the teacher is telling me to empty my backpack or pockets?

Answer: Hi Colin,

If you go to a public school, the principal at your school, or someone who is authorised by the principal, is allowed to search or to organise a search of any bag or locker (or anything else that can be used to contain things) of a student at your school at any time. They can only do this while you are on school grounds. They are allowed to do this to make sure books, tools, materials and other school equipment are not lost or stolen. If a student fails or refuses to open their bag or locker to be searched, the law says that the student can be fined up to $100.

The school and the teachers also have a responsibility to look after the welfare and safety of all students, so if they suspect that there is something dangerous (including something that could be considered a weapon or illegal drugs) in a student’s bag or pockets, it would probably be reasonable for them to ask the student to show them what’s inside.

At the same time, at school you have lots of rights, such as the right to:

  • a safe learning environment;
  • be treated fairly and with respect;
  • be free from discrimination (e.g. because of your religion or race);
  • be able to attend school and learn;
  • not be physically hurt or touched by anyone in a way you don’t agree with.

If you have any other questions, please send us a Lawmail.

Page last updated 19 June 2015.

Question: Hi, my name is Ella and I’m 11. I live in Adelaide and go to a public school. Me and my friend have been getting bullied for two years by this one girl who calls us names, hits us and teases us. My school won’t remove me from her class. What can I do?

Answer: Hi Ella,

We’re sorry to hear that you’ve been getting bullied. Everyone has the right to feel safe and comfortable at school!


What responsibilities does your school have?

Schools have a duty of care to protect their students and make sure that they are safe and secure at school. As part of this duty they must take action to protect their students from being bullied. As you go to a state school run by the South Australian Education Department, your school is required to have an anti-bullying policy. This should be on your school’s website (if not, you can ask for a copy from the office). You and your parents can look at this policy to see how the school is supposed to deal with bullying.


What can you do?

  • Talk to your school

We recommend that you and your parents make an appointment as soon as possible to speak to your school counsellor, and if the school doesn’t have a counsellor, to the principal and your class teacher.

Before you go to the meeting with the counsellor or principal, it’s a good idea to spend some time writing down clearly details about what has been happening to you so that you don’t get confused in the meeting or forget something important. It would be useful to have a copy of your written details to give to the counsellor or principal when you go to see them.

At the meeting your parents should ask the counsellor or your principal what the school plans to do to stop the bullying. It has been going on for a long time.

If you or your parents would like some more information about the guidelines that state schools have to follow when dealing with bullying, go to:


  • Make a complaint

Because you go to a state school run by the South Australian Government, there is a complaint process you and your parents can follow if your school doesn’t take any action to stop the bullying.

The first step you and your parents can make is to complain to the regional education office. Your school should be able to tell you how to contact the regional office, or you can find it here:

If you complain to the regional office and you and your parents are not happy with what the school is doing, your parents can complain to the Education Complaint Unit.

You can email the Education Complaint Unit on: or call them on: 1800 677 435.

If you are still not happy with the response, you and your parents also have the right to refer the matter to the South Australian Ombudsman.

The website is

You can find out more about making a complaint here:

** Remember, if you are in danger of being seriously physically hurt, call 000.**


Where can I get more help?

If you would like talk to someone about how you're feeling, you can call a counsellor from Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or visit their website here:

There is also a website: which you and your parents could read. It may give you some ideas about how to respond to bullying.

If you have any more questions, please send us a Lawmail.

Page last updated 17 July 2015.

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