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Parental rights in education

Your child's school years form an important part in their development and preparation for later life. This article explains your rights as a parent in terms of your child's education, what you can expect from your child's school and the correct procedures to take should you have a complaint.

Principles of the education system and National Curriculum

All state-maintained schools must use the National Curriculum which sets out what most children should be taught. A school can 'exclude' (remove) your child from some or all of the National Curriculum for a short time if they think this is best for your child. You have a right to remove your child from certain lessons.

The education department of your local council must provide education for children who cannot go to school because they have been excluded, are ill, or have been injured. This could be at a hospital school, a pupil-referral unit, further education college, or work-experience placement.

Children must receive education from the start of the term after their fifth birthday up until the third Friday in June in the school year in which they turn 16.

Education must be free at all state-maintained schools and in other educational organisations that the education department of your local council pays for (for example, pupil-referral units and nursery schools).

Parents' choices for their children

You are allowed to say which state school you want your child to go to. Check with the education department of your local council as they may limit the number of schools you can apply to.

You may teach your children at home. You don't have to follow the National Curriculum but you must make sure that your child is educated suitably for their age and ability and for any special educational needs they may have.

What parents can expect from their child's school

You must be given 24 hours' notice in writing if the school wants to give your child a detention out of school hours.

Schools must give you a written report on your child at least once a year. This must include:

  • progress on all the National Curriculum subjects they have studied
  • progress in other subjects and activities
  • general progress and attendance
  • results in any National Curriculum tests and assessments

Legally, you and your child have the right to a copy of your child's school record within 15 school days of you writing to ask for it. However, some information can not be shown or given to you or your child.

You have the right to vote for parent governors to represent you on the school governing body. You can also stand for election as a parent governor yourself.

Children with special educational needs

A child with special needs should get help at school if they have significantly more difficulty learning than other children of the same age or have a disability which affects how they can use educational facilities that are usually provided for children of the same age in the same area. A learning difficulty could be the result of a disability, behaviour problems or problems learning to read.

Schools' policies on discipline and bullying

Your child's school must have a discipline policy which includes what it does to stop bullying. If your child is bullied, you should tell the school straight away. Legally, the school must do all that it reasonably can to protect children from bullying.

The school's discipline policy and any school rules must be based on the governors' statement on how children should behave (which all schools must have). Under the Human Rights Act 1998, any punishment or treatment must not be 'inhuman or degrading'. It must be suitable taking into account what the child has done.

Physical punishment such as smacking, caning or shaking a child is illegal in all schools. School staff may use 'reasonable force' to stop a child:

  • committing a crime
  • hurting someone
  • damaging something

Procedure for complaining

If you are not happy about your child's school or education and want to make a formal complaint, you should get a copy of the school's complaints procedure (all maintained schools must have one) and follow the procedure on it as a first step.

If you think your child has been seriously harmed or sexually assaulted, you can complain straight away to the police or your local authority's social services department.

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