Student Rights

Free legal help for students, parents & caregivers

Discipline and rules

A typical discipline structure in schools

Many schools use something like the following structure for dealing with disciplinary problems, beginning with individual teachers and then, if necessary, involving more senior school staff:

The school guidance counsellor may also become involved in disciplining a student, but counsellors usually prefer to stay outside the discipline process so that they can provide support for the student. See also “Students and confidential school counselling”.

School rules

How are school rules made, and who makes them?

Education Act 1989, ss 72, 75

New Zealand schools are self-governing, with each school setting its own policies and rules for keeping discipline and order. School rules (or “bylaws”) are made by the school’s board of trustees.

Limits on school rules

Education Act 1989, s 72, 75

Any rules that a school board makes must be consistent with the school’s charter, which incorporates the National Administration Guidelines (NAGs) and the National Education Guidelines (NEGs), and with the general law of New Zealand, both legislation and case law (decisions of judges).

Battison v Melloy [2014] NZHC 1462

Any rule has to be precise and clear enough to allow students and parents to fully understand what a rule requires so they know how to act without breaking the rule.

School rules must be fixed in advance. They should be in writing, and parents and students must be able to have access to them. The rules, and what happens if they’re broken, will usually be included in the school’s discipline policy.

Some guidelines for school boards in making rules

Before it makes a rule, the board of trustees should consider the following questions:

What sorts of behaviour is likely to be against the rules?

Note: Schools can differ widely in what they expect of their students, and in the sorts of behaviour they find acceptable or unacceptable. For instance, if you question an instruction given by a teacher, some schools might see this as you simply exercising your right to be fully informed – but other schools might see this as you being rude and disrespectful.

Behaviour that’s likely to be against school rules would include:

Schools will also expect students to comply with certain standards – for example:

Primary school rules may also include things like designated play areas and road safety.

No automatic penalties

A school rule can’t impose an automatic penalty. If a rule is broken, the school has to take into account all the circumstances of the particular case when it decides how to respond.

Scope of the school’s authority: When and where you’re under its control

Can the school have authority over me outside the gates and outside school hours?

Your school usually doesn’t have any authority over you when it’s outside school hours, you’re not on school grounds, and you’re not representing the school in any way. For example, a school couldn’t suspend you for smoking cannabis at a private party at the weekend.

In some situations the school could still have authority over you even though it’s outside school hours and you’re not on school grounds. For example:

Whether a school has control over you when you’re outside the school gates could also depend on other factors like: