Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Powers to discipline off site


Since the Education and Inspections Act 2006 reinforced schools' power to punish misbehaviour off site, there has grown up in some quarters the idea that schools have a duty to police their neighbourhoods. It is important to make it clear that this is not the case.

The law is unchanged and schools which undertake to patrol a neighbourhood do it with very limited powers and significant legal risks. The law has not changed since the case of Bradford-Smart v West Sussex Lord Justice Judge, which ruled that the responsibilities of schools ended at the school gates or, at best, immediately outside. Beyond that the responsibility for student behaviour rested with parents and, if necessary, the police. If schools choose to patrol the neighbourhood, that is a matter of discretion, not duty.

Staff may only exercise powers of restraint, and give orders to students, when the students are under the school's lawful control.

School staff may act where students have brought the school into disrepute, where their actions are likely to affect behaviour in school, or where their actions may limit opportunities for other students. However, the most they can do off site is to warn students, "You'll face the consequences when you come back to school." They cannot make them stop.

So if there is a fight in a shopping centre, a teacher has no more power to help break it up than any other citizen. Those powers are 'citizen's arrest' (highly risky in law), or self-defence (which requires a calculation of the level of threat to oneself and the proportionate force needed to repel it). It would be highly imprudent for teachers to become involved.

It is also dubious that an instruction to do so from a headteacher would be seen as reasonable and therefore it could be ignored.

Finally, the head needs to consider the danger to staff. The neighbourhood is not a teacher's workplace and ordering or encouraging staff to take action would certainly raise questions of legal liability if there had been no risk assessment and risks had been recklessly ignored.

Schools should not take on the duties of the police or community support officers. Flak jackets for deputies need not appear in the local central purchasing catalogue.

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