Last reviewed July 2021
Non-state schools will have their own policies and procedures regarding the running of the school and behaviour management/discipline issues.
Section 280 of the Queensland Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) provides that ‘it is lawful for a parent or a person in the place of a parent, or for a schoolteacher or master, to use, by way of correction, discipline, management or control, towards a child or pupil, under the person’s care such force as is reasonable under the circumstances …’.
The use of unreasonable force by a teacher is unlawful and may amount to a criminal assault, as well as giving a child a civil law right to sue for compensation for pain, and any medical or other expenses incurred as a result. However, the law does allow for physical ‘correction’ or ‘discipline’, and parents should check the school’s policies if they have concerns in relation to this.
In their ‘in loco parentis’ role, teachers may provide students with direction and correction. Corporal punishment was abolished at a policy level in Queensland state schools 20 years ago.
The Education (General Provisions) Act 2006 (Qld) (Education Act) requires the principal of a state school to ‘… control and regulate student discipline in the school …’ (s 275) in line with departmental policies and procedures (s 276).
The Department of Education and Training’s Safe, Supportive and Disciplined School Environment procedure notes that it is for each school to determine its behaviour management strategies and disciplinary consequences, which may include:
- exclusion or cancellation of enrolment
- discipline improvement plans
- community service interventions (which must take place outside of school hours).
Principals cannot delegate decisions for suspensions, exclusions and cancellations of enrolment and discipline improvement plans.
Each state school is expected to develop its own responsible behaviour plan, but each school can deal with matters as they see appropriate for their school.
A plan can cover a wide range of matters, including how the school will manage and respond to drug issues, bullying and use of social media. The example plan notes that the Queensland Police Service may be notified in relation to a number of matters.
A discipline improvement plan can be used at any time (s 276(2) Education Act). For example, it can be used as a way to prevent inappropriate behaviour getting worse or as a last resort option instead of suspension or exclusion.
The plan should be in writing and everyone should have a copy so that they know what they are agreeing to. It should include:
- the reasons why the principal says the student’s behaviour is unacceptable
- details about any program which is being put in place (e.g. an anger management course)
- how long any program will last
- what could happen if the student does not follow the plan.
Failure to undertake a detention or community service intervention, or to agree to a discipline improvement plan is not in itself a ground for suspension, exclusion or cancellation of enrolment, but the original behaviour could be.
Suspension, exclusion and cancellation of enrolment are said to be strategies of last resort and should only be used after other ways of addressing any issues have been tried (e.g. putting a discipline improvement plan in place). Any student in any grade can be suspended or excluded.
A principal is not allowed to ask a student to leave the school unless the student has been suspended, excluded or their enrolment cancelled.
According to ch 12 pt 3 div 2 of the Education Act, a student can be suspended by a principal from a state school for:
- disobedience or misbehaviour
- conduct that the school thinks affects other students or is harmful to the proper running of the school
- being a risk to other students or staff
- being charged by police with any offence (which does not have to be related to the school or allegedly have been committed during school hours), if the principal thinks it would not be in the best interests of other students or staff for the student to be at school.
Suspensions can be for:
- 1 to 10 days
- 10 to 20 days
- a certain time until the court has decided the case where the suspension is because the student has been charged with an offence. The principal can lift the suspension if the student can show that being at school would not be harmful to the staff or other students.
The suspension starts when the principal advises the student. The principal has to give the student a form that states that they have been suspended and, if the decision allows for the student to return to school, provides them with the date at which they can return to school.
The principal must arrange for the student to continue with their education during the suspension by:
- attending an alternative learning program (a list of programs can be found on the Department of Education and Training website)
- doing work at school in a separate room supervised by a teacher’s aid
- going to another school.
If a student has been suspended, they cannot enrol at another school during the suspension unless the chief executive agrees (see Suspension under Refusal of Enrolment, Exclusion or Suspension from School).
A student can be excluded for up to one year or permanently (ch 12 pt 3 div 3 Education Act) by the school principal, the principal’s supervisor or the chief executive from the school they are attending or from all state schools for:
- persistent disobedience
- conduct that is, or is likely to, adversely affect other students or the good order and management of the school. The conduct does not have to happen during school hours or on school grounds
- the student’s attendance being an unacceptable risk to the safety or wellbeing of other students or staff
- situation where suspension is not enough to address these issues.
A student can also be excluded if:
- they are convicted of an offence (which does not have to be related to the school or have been committed during school hours)
- it would not be in the best interests of other students and staff for the student to be enrolled at the school.
The student must be given a written notice (proposed exclusion notice) advising that:
- it is proposed to exclude them
- they are suspended until the decision about exclusion is made.
The principal, principal’s supervisor or chief executive has to:
- take reasonable steps to arrange for the student access to an educational program during the suspension
- make a decision about exclusion within 20 days of the proposed exclusion notice if the decision relates to the school the student is attending, or within 30 days if the chief executive is considering exclusion from certain or all state schools.
As a matter of natural justice, before deciding to exclude a student, the school should give the student a reasonable opportunity to make a submission with reasons as to why they should not be excluded. The principal should consider these reasons properly before making a final decision.
If the decision is not to exclude, the principal must:
- tell the student this as soon as practicable
- advise the student that the suspension is over and they can return to school
- then give the student a written notice about the decision.
If the decision is to exclude, they must:
- exclude the student for up to one year or permanently
- give the student a written notice about the exclusion as soon as practicable, which includes telling the student that they can seek a review of the decision.
Exclusion means that the student is no longer enrolled at the school they were attending. If the decision is that the student is excluded from all state schools, the chief executive has to take reasonable steps to arrange for the student to access an educational program during the exclusion (in reality this means distance education or an alternative learning program). For a review of the decision see Exclusion under Refusal of Enrolment, Exclusion and Suspension from School.
Cancellation of enrolment
Cancellation of enrolment (ch 12 pt 3 div 8 Education Act) relates only to students who are older than compulsory school age. A student’s enrolment can only be cancelled if their behaviour amounts to a refusal to participate in the school’s education program (participation means more than just turning up at school).
If the principal decides to cancel an enrolment, the school must give the student a written notice advising:
- their enrolment at the school is cancelled
- they cannot apply to re-enrol for a specified period (less than 12 months from the date of the notice).
For a review of the decision see Cancellation of Enrolment under Refusal of Enrolment, Exclusion or Suspension from School.
Other actions to address student behaviour
The Department of Education and Training procedure also allows the use of:
- ‘time out’ as a proactive strategy as well as a behaviour management strategy, giving a student time away from their regular class program/routine:
- to a separate area within classroom
- to another supervised room or setting
- physical restraint (manual) of a student’s movement as an immediate or emergency response, or as part of a student’s individual plan:
- where a student is behaving in a manner that is potentially injurious to themselves or others
- to prevent serious property damage.