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What Happens in Secondary School

The school year

In most schools, the school year is divided into 3 terms: Autumn term (September-December); Spring term (January-April); Summer term (April-July). There are school holidays halfway through and at the end of each term. You'll need to make arrangements for your child during school holidays.

Schools also have staff training - or ‘inset' - days when teachers need to be in school, but pupils do not. You will be given advance notice of these days so that you can make other arrangements for your child.

Your child's first year in secondary school is Year 7.

The school day is divided into a number of lessons, lunchtime and breaks. Your child will still have a class (or 'form') teacher but also separate subject teachers for different National Curriculum subjects. There will probably be a ‘head of year' or ‘pastoral' teacher who will look after your child's general welfare.

New pupils often find the first few weeks of the first term physically tiring since they're now moving from classroom to classroom for each lesson.


School meals have recently been in the news and schools now try to make sure that children can get a healthy meal at lunchtime. Depending on the school, there may be, for example, halal or vegetarian options. If there are no suitable choices provided for your child, you can talk to the class teacher or head teacher to see if arrangements can be made. Some parents choose to give their child a packed lunch.

Some schools use a computerised system with cards or fingerprint technology to pay for meals so that children do not need to bring cash into school.

Some secondary schools allow students to leave school at lunch times - though usually not in the first year - so you'll need to talk to your child about eating healthily.


Some schools may have a uniform for daily wear and for Physical Education. When they decide on school uniform, schools have to take into account cultural and religious requirements. Some schools adapt their uniforms so that, for example, a uniform shalwar kamiz can be worn. They will usually allow girls to wear trousers or a headscarf though it's worth finding out if veils will have to be removed inside the classroom. Boys are normally allowed to wear a turban. For health and safety reasons, there are normally rules about wearing jewellery.


Most schools have rules that set the standard for behaviour. You should be able to see a copy of the behaviour policy (school rules). If your child breaks the rules, there are a number of actions the school might take including giving a detention (being made to stay behind in class during break or after school). It is important to know whether the school needs to inform you. Some schools only tell parents in advance if an after-school detention is for more than 15 minutes. The school might be able to reschedule a detention if, for example, it happens on an important religious day or if you're worried about your child returning home alone in the dark.

Other actions that might be taken include: a reprimand; a letter home; removal from the class; loss of break or lunchtime privileges.

A more severe punishment might be exclusion from school for a fixed period (for a maximum of 45 days in total in a school year) when a child has seriously broken school rules or his/her presence would either harm others or disrupt learning. If your child is to be excluded, the school will call you and follow up with a letter that explains the length of the exclusion, why it's being used and who to contact if you want further information.

As an alternative to exclusion, children can be removed from their own class and sent to a designated part of the school, or to another class. This should only happen for a short period of time. Another possibility is that they might be sent to a Pupil Referral Unit (a special type of school, run by the local authority for children who are unable to attend mainstream school).

If your child is excluded from school, you will have to make sure that he/she is not outside of home during school hours for the first 5 days of the exclusion. If you do not, and your child is seen outside of home at those times, then you could be liable to a fine. If you can provide a reasonable justification for your child being in a public place, then you may not have to pay the fine.

Children can be permanently excluded from school as a last resort. If this happens, it means that your child can no longer attend the school (and other schools may be unwilling to take him/her). The school's governing body has to review the decision but even if they confirm the decision, you have the right to appeal to an Independent Appeals Panel. The local authority still has to provide your child with a full-time education, so they must discuss other options with you. These might include your child being sent to a different school or a Pupil Referral Unit or being educated at home.

Statistics show that Black boys are between 3 and 6 times more likely than White boys to be excluded from school and that they are punished more severely than White boys for similar offences. Gypsy/Traveller pupils are also disproportionately excluded. Permanent exclusion can have such serious consequences for your child that it's important to investigate the circumstances and to question why the decision was made.

Physical punishment is not allowed in any school.

You can get help and advice from the Advisory Centre for Education (0808 800 5793), which produces a free exclusion pack for parents. The Centre also has an exclusion information line 020 7704 9822 and an exclusion advice line 0808 800 0327.