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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 don't. You will be given advance notice of these days so that you can make other arrangements for your child.

You may find that, since your child is now studying for exams, he/she may be given ‘study leave' - time when he/she is allowed to study, unsupervised, away from the school premises.


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 allow older children to leave school premises at lunchtime. You may need to discuss with your child your expectations about where he/she goes, what he/she does, what he/she eats and any other concerns.

Behaviour and Discipline


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, your child can no longer attend the school (and other schools might be unwilling to take him/her). The school's governing body has to review the decision but even if it confirms 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.

It is likely that a student's misbehaviour will need to be quite serious before the school will contact parents. It therefore becomes vital to be aware of what's happening in your child's school life and, if necessary, to go to the school and talk to staff in order to deal with problems before any serious action needs to be taken.

As children get older, they may find themselves more and more affected by peer pressure. Parents often worry that their child is growing up very fast and is being influenced more by friends than by their parents when it comes to issues like sex, drugs, drink or petty crime. Young people may be tempted to experiment in order to test boundaries.

For most parents, their fears turn out to be unfounded, but they may want, anyway, to prepare themselves by getting as much information as possible and by finding out where they and their children can go for help. There are a number of organisations that offer information, support and advice:

- Parentline Plus (0808 800 2222,  email: has information on peer pressure, alcohol and drug abuse and a number of other concerns that parents may have.

- FRANK (0800 77 66 00) gives information and advice to parents and young people about drugs.

- ADFAM gives information to family members facing problems with drugs or alcohol.

- RU Thinking (0800 28 29 30) gives information, advice and guidance to young people under 18 on sex, relationships and contraception.

- Brook (0800 0185 023) gives information and advice to young people under 25 on all issues to do with sexual health.