Discipline at school 

What’s the difference between stand-down, suspension and expulsion of my child?

Stand-down, suspension, exclusion and expulsion are measures a school can take if a child continually breaks schools rules or shows dangerous or risky behaviour. They are only used as a last resort.

The Ministry of Education defines a stand-down as “the formal removal of a student from school by a principal, for a specific period of time”. Only the school principal or acting principal may impose a stand-down.

A stand-down can’t last for more than five school days in a term, or 10 school days in a year (the day the student was stood down isn’t counted). 

According to the Ministry of Education a suspension is “the formal removal of a student from school by a principal, until the school's board of trustees decides the outcome”. The board can decide to:

  • lift the suspension
  • lift the suspension with reasonable conditions the student child must follow
  • extend the suspension with reasonable conditions (the school must tell you why they have extended the suspension)
  • exclude or expel the student

If a student is under 16 they can’t be expelled but they can be ‘excluded’. This means they are removed from the school, and must enrol at another school (read more about this).
A student can be expelled if they are aged 16 years or more. This means that the school's board of trustees removes them from the school and the principal does not have to find another school for them. If the student wants to continue with schooling, their parents have to find another school for them.

It’s a good idea to contact the teacher or principal if you think your child might be heading towards a stand-down, suspension, exclusion or expulsion. They will be able to explain what the school will take action against, and might be able to give you some tips to help guide your child away from any serious actions.

The rules about stand-downs, suspensions, and expulsions can vary depending on the school. Community Law Centres Aotearoa has a helpful guide, Problems at school. The Ministry of Education website also has information for parents on stand-downs and suspensions.

You can consult your local CAB if you need help or advice with issues about stand-downs, suspensions or exclusions.

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My child has been excluded from his school. Where can he go now?

When a child is excluded from school, the school principal has to try to find another school for the child to attend. If they are unable to do so, the principal must tell the Ministry of Education, who may:

  • lift the exclusion, if they think it’s suitable for your child to return to their old school
  • arrange for your child’s enrolment at another school and, if necessary, direct the school to accept them, or
  • arrange for your child to enrol at Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (The Correspondence School). 

You can also try to find another school for your child yourself, but the school does not have to accept your child. To find a school near you, see the Schools Directory on the Ministry of Education website.

To check whether the school has followed the proper process for excluding your child, have a look at the Ministry of Education's Stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions guidelines and the Youthlaw website.

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In what ways are schools allowed to discipline my children?

Policies about disciplining students can vary from school to school. What is acceptable in one school might not be in another. Some of the ways in which schools can legally discipline children are

  • written work eg lines and essays
  • detention (staying back in lunchtimes or after school)
  • extra work around the school such as picking up rubbish
  • "time out" or being sent out of class
  • taking away privileges eg not allowing the student to attend a class outing
  • behaviour management programmes eg a drug awareness programme
  • a reprimand (telling off) in front of the principal and parents
  • reports e.g. a report card filled daily in by teachers and shown to the principal
  • written behaviour contract between the school and the child, in consultation with the parents

Schools are not allowed to:

  • use physical punishment such as hitting a student or throwing objects at them;
  • send a student home except under the stand-down or suspension process; or
  • punish the student in a way that is degrading or cruel.

The Community Law guide Problems at school deals with issues around punishments, fees, uniforms, truancy, privacy and bullying, among others. If you are concerned about the way a school is disciplining your child, you can seek advice from your local CAB or call the Student Rights Service on 0800 499 488.

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I don’t agree with the way my child’s teacher disciplined her – how do I make a complaint?

First, talk with your child’s teacher and try to get their side of the story. You can call the Student Rights Service on 0800 499 488 for help in working out whether the punishment your child received was lawful.

If you aren’t satisfied with the teacher’s explanation, or believe the punishment was unlawful or unreasonable, you can complain to the school principal and/or the school’s board of trustees. Your complaint to the board of trustees should be in writing and addressed to the Chairperson.

Other agencies which can help you include:

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What will happen if my child is constantly truant?

If your child is aged between 5 and 16 years they must attend every day that it is open (unless there is a reasonable excuse, such as illness – but you must advise the school of the absence). Failure to attend is called truancy (also known as “wagging”).

The school can punish your child, for example by giving them detention or suspension. If your child repeatedly fails to attend school, the school has to deal with the issue. This can include arranging a family meeting to discuss the problem and contacting other agencies if they think it is related to learning difficulties or problems at home.

If the truancy continues the school may involve the Ministry of Education’s Attendance Service, who will work with the family to try to resolve the truancy.

The school could get Oranga Tamariki involved, who will arrange for a Family Group Conference.

As a last resort, you could be prosecuted and face fines of between $30 and $300 for a first offence, and up to $3000 for a second or subsequent offences plus court costs.

Before it gets this far, talk with your child about out why they won’t go to school. There could be many reasons why, perhaps they are a victim of bullying, for example.

More information is on the Student Rights Service website and the Ministry of Education website.

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Is it against the law to take my child on holiday during the school term?

Yes. This is known as "parent-condoned truancy".  A holiday is not a good enough reason to take your child out of school, so holidays should be planned outside of term time. Events like a birthday or a special day’s shopping aren’t considered valid reasons for being away from school either. More about school attendance is on the Ministry of Education website.

When your child is away from school they will miss out on important learning; and this can have a greater impact the older they get. If travel during term time is unavoidable, you should at least inform the school and talk to the teacher about ways to help your child continue learning while they are away.

Parents could be prosecuted for “parent-condoned truancy” and face fines of between $30 and $300 for a first offence, and up to $3000 for a second or subsequent offences plus court costs.