Problems at school

This advice applies to Scotland. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Wales

What is in this information

This information outlines some of the problems you or your child may have at school and the general procedures which can be used to resolve a problem.

If you can't resolve the problem using the general procedures you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

The following terms are used:

  • Parent - this means either or both parents, or the pupil’s guardian, or another person who has parental responsibility for the pupil

  • Education Authority - education department to the local council.

  • Parent forum - this is a collective term for all the parents of the pupils who attend a local authority school

  • Parent council - this is a body that the parent forum of a school may have decided to set up to represent their views to the school. In many cases a parent council will have replaced a school board.

All the parents’ rights described here are transferred to the pupil when they reach 16.

Who does this information apply to

The information here applies to a pupil at a local authority school.

General procedures for dealing with a problem at school

The general procedures for dealing with a problem at school are listed in the order they should normally be used. 

Step 1 - Talk to your child

You may be aware that your child has a problem at school either because they have told you or you have been told by the school, another parent or one of your other children. Wherever possible, you should discuss the problem and ways of resolving it with your child before taking any other action. However, depending on the age of the pupil, it may be necessary to talk to their teacher in order to clarify the problem.

Step 2 - Talk to your child's teacher or guidance teacher

It is usually helpful for you to talk to your child's class teacher about the problem before taking further action. The teacher will usually be able to clarify the problem, provide more information and they may be willing to support you. If the child is at a secondary school you should contact the appropriate guidance teacher first, if the problem is a general one.

Step 3 - Talk to the headteacher

Although the headteacher has wide powers to run the school how they choose, they must do so in consultation with the parent council or equivalent body or education authority and in accordance with agreed policies. The headteacher, particularly in a large school, may delegate responsibility for dealing with individual pupil’s problems to another member of staff. However, you can ask to meet the headteacher if you prefer to do so.

Step 4 - Talk to other parents

If you think that your child’s problem is one which may also be affecting other pupils, you may wish to consider talking to other parents and taking action jointly.

Step 5 - Talk to the parent council

You can ask the parent council or equivalent body to discuss your child’s problem, but only at a general level. To raise the problem at a meeting of the council, you should contact the council to find out about the best way of doing this.

Step 6 - Appeal to the education authority

Depending on what the problem is, you may be able to appeal to the education authority.

You will need to check with the school or education authority whether you can appeal and, if you can, the procedure for doing so. If the right of appeal is to the education authority, you could talk to your local councillors before the appeal as they may be on the appeal committee or may be willing to give advice and support.

If you are considering appealing you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Access to school records

Information is kept by local authority schools on each pupil's educational progress and they must also keep a record of other information, for example the child's health history, dates and results of any objective, diagnostic, psychological or aptitude tests, anything which impacts on the child's educational abilities or attainment, family and emergency contact details and any previous school the child has attended.

The record must only be used to supervise the child's educational development and for giving advice and assistance to, or about, the child. You can make a request to see your child's educational records. The school must make them available free of charge for inspection within 15 working days. The school can make a small charge if you wish to have a copy. The school should provide the information in a different language or format if requested to do so. A child over 12 also has the right to see their educational records.


Bullying can take many forms and can be direct, either physical or verbal, or indirect, for example, ignoring a pupil or not talking to them. Some forms of bullying, for example, cyberbullying, can be anonymous and the bullying behaviour doesn't always take place at school. The Respectme website provides more information about how to identify and tackle bullying.

You should be aware that someone who is bullying a child may also be discriminating against them under the Equality Act 2010. You may want to take action about this. You should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.


Cyberbullying is bullying behaviour that takes place via mobile phone or over the internet through e-mails, instant messaging and social networking websites. Texts, messages and images which hurt, intimidate or embarrass another person are sent or posted on websites. Cyberbullying is often anonymous and can happen anywhere, not just at school, The Respectme website provides information and advice about cyberbullying, including a useful leaflet for professionals, parents and children and young people.

The Scottish Government strongly recommends that schools have an anti-bullying policy, which should set out how bullying should be dealt with in the school. If there is no policy you should contact the head teacher or the local authority.

If bullying is so serious that your child is too frightened to go to school, or you fear for your child's safety, you may wish to keep your child at home. However, this might breach your legal duty to send your child to school. It is essential that you and your child tell the school about the bullying and continue to communicate the difficulties until the bullying stops.

If the bullying involves a criminal offence, for example, assault, harassment, intimidation, extortion or theft, then it should also be reported to the police. If the bully is over the age of 12 they could be prosecuted for a criminal offence.

If you feel that the school or education authority has breached its duties to your child, you should seek advice from a solicitor about other legal action that it might be possible to take.

Further help about bullying



Respectme is Scotland's national, anti-bullying service. It provides advice and guidance on developing and reviewing anti-bullying policies. The Respectme website provides useful information and advice about bullying for professionals, parents and children and young people.

Childline Scotland's bullyline

Tel: 0800 1111

If you're a child or young person, you can call this free, confidential helpline for advice about bullying.

Parentline Scotland

Tel: 08000 28 22 33 (Mon - Fri 9am - 10pm, Sat - Sun 12noon - 8pm)

If you're a parent you can call this free, confidential helpline about any parenting issues, including advice about bullying.

Charging for education

Schools must provide free education and cannot charge for any activity (or materials, books, exam entry fees or equipment for use in connection with the activity) which:

  • is an essential part of the curriculum or religious education syllabus; or

  • is an essential part of the syllabus for a prescribed examination; or

  • takes place wholly or mainly during school hours.

The rules on when a charge can be made are very complicated and you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Choice of subjects

Schools teach a range of subjects and a secondary school pupil will usually be able to have some choice on which subjects they study. However, the school will advise a pupil about which subjects would be most appropriate, taking into account their academic ability and future career plans.

If the school refuses to let your child study their subject of choice, and you feel it is because of their sex, the school may be discriminating against you, and you can complain. See sex discrimination

If the school does not offer the subject or combination of subjects a pupil wants to study, this may mean they will not be able to get the necessary qualifications to get a place on a further or higher education course in future. As well as using the general procedures to try and persuade the school to offer a particular subject or combination of subjects, you may wish to suggest to the school that your child studies the subject at another school. The school may be able to re-timetable subjects if a particular combination of subjects is asked for.

As restrictions on the choice of subjects may also affect other pupils, you may wish to consider making a complaint with other dissatisfied parents or involving the parent council or equivalent body.

Choosing a school

You may have a number of problems regarding choice of school. Solutions to many of these problems including what to do if you are refused a place in the school you want for your child are covered on another page.

More about problems when choosing a school

Disability discrimination

It is unlawful for any school or provider of education, to discriminate against disabled pupils (both current and prospective pupils) under the Equality Act 2010. These duties are additional to the duties schools have towards pupils with additional support needs. Issues related to disability discrimination of pupils can be taken to the Additional Support Needs Tribunal for Scotland (ASNTS). The ASNTS has produced information about how to make a disability discrimination claim

Local authorities have planning duties to make schools accessible to disabled pupils.

Schools have a legal duty to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people. They must produce a Disability Equality Scheme, setting out the steps they will take to involve disabled pupils, parents and staff.

If your child is experiencing problems with access/admission to a school, they or you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

For more information see disability discrimination in schools

Discrimination because of sexuality

It is against the law for a school or local authority to discriminate against pupils because of their sexuality, for example because they are lesbian or gay or they are the children of lesbian or gay parents. It is against the law for a school to prevent a pupil taking part in a residential school trip because they are perceived as being gay. Bullying lesbian or gay pupils, or pupils who are perceived to be lesbian or gay is against the law. In some cases these incidents may be classed as hate crime.

More about hate crime

These rules apply to all schools, including faith schools. For example, a Muslim school could not teach that same sex relationships are wrong. However, it is not against the law for them to teach that the Muslim faith says that these relationships are wrong.

More about discrimination of sexual orientation

If you're a pupil or parent who is experiencing discrimination at school because of sexuality, you should talk to an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Discrimination because of gender reassignment

It is against the law for a school, college or other education provider to discriminate against someone who is undergoing gender reassignment.

Gender reassignment is where you are changing from one sex to another.

It is also illegal to discriminate against you if you are intending to undergo or have already undergone gender reassignment. You do not have to be undergoing medical treatment.

For example, it may be discrimination for a school to refuse to allow a transgender pupil to wear clothes appropriate to the gender they are changing to.

If you are experiencing bullying or aggressive behaviour about gender reassignment in some cases these instances of discrimination may be classed a hate crime

More about hate crime

For more information about discrimination because of gender reassignment, see sexual orientation discrimination

Discrimination because of religion or belief

It is against the law for a school or local authority to discriminate against a pupil or against the parents of a pupil because of their religion or belief.  Discrimination against someone with no religion is also against the law. There are some exceptions to the general rules. For example, when admitting pupils, faith schools may still give priority to pupils of that faith. Bullying people because of their religion or belief can be classed as hate crime.

More about hate crime

For more information about religious discrimination in education see discrimination because of religion or belief

If you're a pupil or parent who is experiencing discrimination at school because of religion, you should talk to an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Discrimination and racist harassment

A pupil may be a victim of racial abuse and violence from other pupils, either on the school premises or on the way to or from school. It is important that parents bring all incidents to the head teacher’s attention. If the education authority has an adviser with special responsibility for race issues, incidents should also be reported to them. If the school is unwilling to take steps to prevent racist attacks, in addition to following the general procedures (see under heading General procedures for dealing with a problem at school), parents should contact the local authority.

The law says that a school or college must not discriminate against people on grounds of race in any of its policies or practices, including admission policies. Local education authorities also have a legal duty not to discriminate.

If you are being bullied because of your race this can be classed as hate crime.

More about hate crime

Local education authorities have a duty to have a race equality policy and should take positive steps to discourage racism and stop racist attacks. Schools should follow the local authority's policy. You may also wish to contact teachers' unions which have clear policies on racism in schools.

For information about racial discrimination, see Taking action about race discrimination.

Discrimination and sexual harassment

Sexual harassment can be described as unacceptable behaviour based on someone's sex which is unreasonable, unwelcome or offensive. This could include unwanted comments of a sexual nature or inappropriate touching. Incidents of sexual harassment by pupils or teachers should be reported to the headteacher, who should deal with them promptly. Sexual harassment by a teacher is considered to be gross misconduct and could lead to the teacher’s dismissal. It might also be a criminal offence. If you or your child feel that reported instances of sexual harassment are not being dealt with properly copies of the complaint should be sent to the Director of Education at the education authority asking that they investigate the matter.

In some cases the harassment behaviour may be classed as hate crime.

More about hate crime

Sex discrimination is when someone is treated less favourably because of their sex. For example, your daughter isn't allowed to do craft, design and technology classes solely because she is a girl. If your child has been discriminated against at school because of their sex, get advice. 

For more information about making a complaint about sex discrimination, see Taking action about sex discrimination.

Disruptive behaviour

How education authorities and parent councils deal with a pupil with disruptive behaviour varies widely, and behaviour which one authority or council considers to be disruptive may not be defined as disruptive by another.

Some authorities have a policy of removing a pupil who it considers to be disruptive to a special unit within the school or elsewhere in the area. This should only be done after a parent has been consulted. Transferring a pupil to a special unit is sometimes used as a way of solving a problem or is seen as a permanent solution. However, a short-term placement at a special unit may be useful if the unit offers specialised help for pupils with disruptive behaviour.

If your child is transferred to a special unit they should normally be re-integrated into the school as soon as possible.


Schools must have a policy for handling incidents of drug abuse.

If the school thinks that a pupil is concealing drugs staff cannot physically search a pupil. Only the police can conduct a search on school premises.

Education during and after pregnancy

The education authority has a legal duty to ensure that every child under 16, and those aged 16-19 who wish it, continues to receive an education suitable to their age and ability. If a pupil becomes pregnant this duty still remains.

There is no national policy or guidance on this matter and authorities and schools may vary in how they deal with pregnancy in school. The wishes of the pupil and the range of alternative options will also vary from case to case and should be taken into account.

If a pupil decides to stay away from school, then home tuition can be arranged. It should be recognised that home tuition is often limited and may only amount to a few hours teaching each week. Some authorities may offer education in a specialist unit as an alternative to remaining at school.

Pregnancy is not a reasonable ground for excluding a pupil from school. If your child is excluded for this reason, she or you could appeal to the parent council or the education authority. You could also consider a complaint to the Scottish Minister for Schools and Skills or taking a case under the Human Rights Act.

English as a second language

A pupil for whom English is not their first language may need extra tuition to improve their standard of written and spoken English. Although there is no requirement for education authorities to teach English as a second language, you could find out if the authority has a policy and then use the general procedures to either enforce the policy or to persuade the authority to draw up a suitable policy.


Exclusion from school is a serious sanction and should only be used by a school as a last resort.

A pupil can be excluded from school if:

  • their parent is not complying with, or allowing the pupil to comply with, the school's rules or disciplinary code; or

  • their attendance at school is seriously disrupting order and discipline in the school and the educational well-being of the other pupils.

Schools are not allowed to informally suspend or ban pupils from school. Any removal from school is an exclusion and must follow a set procedure.

If your child is excluded from school, you must be told on the day the decision is made and a meeting must be arranged within 7 days to discuss the exclusion with you.

You have a right to appeal against your child's exclusion. Most young people over the age of 12 also have the right to appeal the exclusion. An appeal must be sent to the educational appeals committee within 28 days of the decision to exclude the pupil.

While a pupil is excluded, the local education authority still has a duty to educate the child. It must arrange for the pupil to receive suitable education, either at another school or educational unit or at home. These arrangements should be put in place within 10 days of the exclusion.

You can also get help from a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Food at school

Schools don't have to provide school meals but they must provide a supervised place for children to eat packed lunches. They must also give free school meals to eligible children.

There are rules about food and drink that schools must follow. This is so that they are healthy and don't contain too much fat, sugar and salt for example. Schools can't provide:

  • sweets and chocolates

  • deep fried foods more than 3 times a week

  • too much red meat or processed red meat, like ham or bacon

  • fruit juice or smoothies.

Schools don't have to follow these rules if they're unable to do so because of food shortages.

Free drinking water must also be provided at all times, including meal times. 

Schools should provide special diets if your child needs one, for example, for medical or religious reasons.

If you're concerned about the quality of the food that your child is getting, you should contact the school.

General appearance

Some schools have rules about a pupil’s general appearance - for example, pupils may not be allowed to wear make-up or jewellery. A school can have a policy on general appearance as long as it is reasonable and does not discriminate on grounds of sex or race. You can find out what the school’s policy is by asking the school.

School uniform

The law is not specific on the question of school uniform but any school policy must be reasonable or it could mean that the school is discriminating against the children because of race, sex, sexuality, disability or religion and human rights. The school must provide information on its policy on clothing and uniform. The Education Authority must provide written information on its general policy on wearing school uniform. As a parent if you don't want your child to wear the school's preferred uniform, your child cannot be disciplined for not wearing it. If however, your child simply refuses to wear the school uniform the school can discipline them if it thinks that academic or disciplinary problems might be caused by the refusal.

Many schools do have a policy covering the wearing of school clothing. The policy may state that certain items must be worn and that other items cannot be worn, for example, jeans. Schools must take religious and cultural requirements into account when drawing up a school uniform policy. You can find out what the school’s policy on school uniform is by asking the school.

For information about race discrimination, see Taking action about race discrimination.

For information about sex discrimination, see Taking action about sex discrimination.

Holidays during term time

In most circumstances, schools will not authorise family holidays during term time. However, they may do so in exceptional circumstances, for example, when a family needs to spend time together following a crisis. If you take your child out of school without permission, action could be taken against you for failing to ensure that your child attends school.

The Scottish Government publishes a useful leaflet called A guide for parents about school attendance, which can be found on the Scottish Government’s website.


A primary school cannot insist that your child does homework, although a school may ask your child to look things up or find material for a project. In a secondary school your child will usually be expected to do some homework, although a school cannot insist on this. You may be concerned that your child is being given too much or too little homework. You may wish to find out how homework is set and how much time the school expects your child to spend on it.


If your child cannot attend school because of sickness or injury, the local education authority must arrange suitable education. This may be in hospital schools or hospital teaching units, or tuition at home.

When a child is admitted to hospital, their educational needs should be assessed as soon as possible after admission. All children admitted to hospital for more than 5 working days have a right to properly planned education.

If your child is absent from school for 15 or more consecutive working days, the education authority may assess their needs. The school may then provide work for the child to do at home. The education authority may provide home visiting teachers.

There is a useful factsheet called 'When a child can't go to school' which has been written by Enquire, the Scottish advice service for additional support for learning. The factsheet is on the Enquire website.


Teachers should take reasonable care of pupils while they are on the school premises or taking part in a school activity - for example, a visit to a local swimming pool, an education visit or a school trip or holiday. This applies even if you have given permission for your child to take part in the activity.

Knives and other blades

If you are found on school premises with a knife or other blade and if you are convicted of an offence related to its possession you could be imprisoned for up to 12 months or 4 years.

Pregnancy and maternity

It is against the law to discriminate against a student because she is pregnant or has had a baby within the previous 26 weeks for example, she should not be prevented from attending school because she is pregnant. The school may have to consider providing alternative education if the pregnancy prevents her from attending school.


The headteacher and teachers can use reasonable non-physical means to punish a pupil. Any punishment must be fair, reasonable and in line with school policy.

Corporal Punishment

A teacher can only use reasonable physical force if they do so in self-defence or if it is necessary to break up a fight between pupils or to stop a pupil endangering themselves, other pupils or school property.

Corporal punishment is against the law and banned in all schools.

Someone with a concern about physical punishment should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Religious education and observance

Every school has to provide religious education and time for religious observance (for example, services). Parents have a legal right to withdraw their child from participating in these sessions. The school must make you aware that you have this right, explain what you should do and respect your views.

Pupils don't have a legal right to withdraw from religious education or religious observation in school - this must be done by a parent or carer. However, schools should involve pupils in discussions about their education and take their views into account.

If you do withdraw your child from religious observation or religious education, the school must make suitable arrangements for your child to take part in a worthwhile alternative activity. In no circumstances should a child be disadvantaged as a result of withdrawing from religious observation or religious education.

Starting and leaving dates

All pupils between the ages of 5 and 16 must receive full-time education, either at school or out of school. You must make sure that your child receives full-time education and the education authority has a duty to make sure that suitable full-time education is available. In addition, the education authority may provide full-time education to any student, aged over 16, who wants it.

Your child must start school at the beginning of the school year after they are 5, at the latest. Some children may be able to start school before they are 5. Each local authority sets its own policy on the precise age at which a child under 5 can start school.

There are 2 school leaving dates in a year. The date for a particular pupil depends on when they become16:

Date of 16th birthday School leaving date
Date of 16th birthday

Between 1 March and 30 September

School leaving date

31 May of that year

Date of 16th birthday

Between 1 October and following 28 February

School leaving date

First day of Christmas holidays


If you discover, or are informed by the school, that your child is truanting you should try to resolve the problem as soon as possible by using the general procedures. You may be able to see any reports which have been written about your child.

All education authorities have an education welfare officer (EWO) who may be asked by the school to visit a pupil at home. The EWO will try to find out why the pupil is truanting and offer advice. The school will then keep the EWO informed about the pupil’s attendance at school. If the pupil continues to truant the EWO will make regular visits to the pupil’s home. If there is no improvement, the parents may receive a warning that court action may be taken by the education authority.

Sex education

All schools are expected to provide sex education and the Scottish Government provides guidance on how this should be provided. The guidance is available on the Scottish Government website. You should be consulted about the content of the school's sex education programme and you should take up any concerns with the head teacher of the school.

You are entitled to withdraw your child from all or part of the sex education programme if you wish, but not from lessons in the general curriculum which relate to aspects of reproduction, sex, sexuality and morality.