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Discipline and Punishment

South Australia

This information will apply to you if you go to a state (or government) school in South Australia. If you go to a private or Catholic school, you and your school’s legal rights may be different. For information on discipline and punishment for a private or Catholic school, send us a Lawmail.


Q:  Hi, my name is Joseph.  When are schools allowed to give punishments and detention?

A: Hi Joseph. The law says that schools in South Australia are allowed to set reasonable rules for student behaviour, 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 longer than half of the lunchtime period, so that you still have time to eat your lunch and have a break from lessons.

Schools need to have a Student Behaviour Code which explains the school rules and the consequences if you break them.   You could ask for a copy of the behaviour code from the school office.


Q:  Hi, my name is Sophie.  I wore my own skirt to school instead of the school uniform.  Is the school allowed to discipline me?

A: Hi Sophie.  Schools are allowed to discipline students for not following the school’s dress code.  This punishment can include a detention.  However, schools are not allowed to suspend, exclude or expel you for breaking the dress code.


Q: Hi, my name is Michael.  Are there any limits on what sort of punishments my school can give me?

A: Hi Michael.  Yes, there are limits on what a school can do.  The Department of Education’s ‘School Discipline Policy’ says that a punishment for breaking the rules must be ‘non-violent’.  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.

Q: Hi my name is Dan, I was given a detention, I don’t think the way my school punished me was fair, what can I do about it?

A: Hi Dan, your school principals and teachers can enforce certain standards of behaviour however if you think you were treated unfairly or were punished unreasonably, there are steps you can take:

  • Try to talk to your teacher about it.
  • Ask to see the head teacher for your grade or the school principal and explain your point of view.
  • Ask your parents for support and get them to help you take the matter up with the school.
  • Get support from your student representative on the Student Representative Council or from a youth group, cultural group or an organisation that gives advice. For example, you can seek advice from the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre.

In your school’s behaviour code it should also outline the steps that you can take if you or anyone in the school community believe that the behaviour code is being enforced inappropriately, which would include unfair or excessive punishment.  These steps are often called ‘grievance procedures’.  You may also want to read more information on our information sheet on Suspensions, Exclusions or Expulsions.

If you have a question about school discipline and punishment that we haven’t answered here please send us a Lawmail.

This page was last updated 16 April 2015.



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