What do you do if you disagree with how a teacher disciplines your child? Five tips from an educational psychologist

Dr Britto shares her top advice on what to do next...

Woman sat on sofa with phone
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Whether it's 'time out', detention, no playtime, loss of house points or your kid being shouted at - sometimes hearing how the school chooses to discipline can feel hard, especially when it doesn't align with how you parent. This makes sense and it's okay for you to look for ways to discuss this with the teacher and school.

If you're struggling with getting your kid into school it might be worth having a conversation with their teachers - while it could be down to so many factors, the discipline they face each day might be one of the reasons. And, schools welcome this as they understand that engaging with and maintaining a positive relationship between parents and school is so important and necessary. It's more than just paying for additional support, when a parent plays an active role in their child's education there are significant benefits to overall development.

Parents partnering with their children's school allows a consistent approach and yields positive outcomes. According to the Education Endowment Foundation guidance report, parents have a crucial role in supporting their children's engagement in learning and positive academic outcomes, such as improving grades up to three levels over a year. In some cases, it can be tricky for parents to establish a positive relationship with schools for several valid reasons; however, if possible, the focus should be on the shared priority of delivering the best outcomes for their children, a goal that both parents and schools strive for. I'm an educational psychologist and mum-of-one and here are five things to try if you want to get to the bottom of any discipline queries.

What to do if you disagree with how a teacher disciplines your child

  1. Read up and be aware of the school's behavioural policies
  2. Share the context of your child's life outside of school
  3. Explain what works for you and your child at home
  4. Advocate for your child - your voice matters
  5. Contact school Governors

Some parents admit that being back in a school environment makes them feel they can't use their voice, and they feel stilted and 'just agree' with what the school and teachers say. This is understandable, when millennial parents were kids in school 100% compliance may have been the expectation, so being around teachers may trigger this 'compliant' feeling. Or maybe it's the opposite and being in school triggers the 'defiant' feeling and defences run high - both reactions are understandable. Try to remind yourself to stay calm and that you are an adult and your child's voice is important.

1. Read up and be aware of the school's behavioural policies

Parents sometimes disagree with policies such as detention, seclusion rooms, and other forms of punishment given in schools. Firstly, children thrive better when the school have a supportive rather than punitive behavioural policy. Do you know your children's school's behavioural policy and legislation that inform the school's approach? If not, it is essential to become aware of your children's school's policies, which are often downloadable from their website as the first point of call. Once you know the policies, you can approach your children's class teacher to have an informal conversation about your concerns. Remember to keep your child at the centre of the interaction.

2. Share the context of your child's life outside of school

Share more context of what is happening for your children outside of school and at home. For example, your child may be showing a difference in their behaviour because there has been a change in the family dynamics. The school can be made aware and it helps them make reasonable adjustments, and changes to the learning environment or teaching methods, and offer the proper support.

Children and young people want their behaviours to be understood rather than managed and their needs to be met rather than punished; however, this can be difficult to implement if schools are not fully aware of changes in life circumstances that may influence them. Thus, communication is vital and listening to one another's perspectives can help create a positive shift.

3. Explain what works for you and your child at home

Share best practices that have proven effective with your children's class teacher and other school staff members. This can be done by scheduling a meeting with the teacher or emailing. To ensure consistency in the approaches, ask the school to provide evidence of what works. Often, children may present differently in one context than the other, such as home and school. It is important to remember that no one size fits all, so the more you communicate your ideas with the school, the better.

4. Advocate for your child - their voice matters

Pupil voice matters! You can advocate for your children's voices by paraphrasing what they have informed you during a formal meeting with the school. A structured conversation can be led by the senior leadership member of the school and pastoral care team. Encourage children to voice their opinions directly at a structured meeting with school staff. This can be powerful as it allows them to feel empowered and allows all parties to hear what is required to move forward in the right direction. For example, achievement anxiety is a massive concern for many pupils, and they need an outlet to be able to express their feelings, which they may not feel comfortable expressing to their teachers without the support of their parents.

5. Contact school Governors

In some cases, points 1-4 may be unsuccessful. If all fails, parents can seek support and advocacy by contacting the school's governing body and a Local Authority representative to provide additional support to manage conflict and tension with their children's school. This reassures parents, and you, that there are avenues available to you in case of disagreement, ensuring your concerns are heard and addressed. You can feel secure and confident knowing that there is a safety net of support ready to assist you.

Maintaining a positive relationship with a school can be tough, requiring continuous effort and support. To have a positive relationship with schools, parents can establish effective two-way communication by expressing expectations, needs and wants. Schools often ask parents about how they can be involved in their child's education, which is valuable and improves the home-school relationship.

"Try to remind yourself to stay calm and that you are an adult and your child's voice is important. "

However, not all parents are consulted in this way, which can be understandably frustrating. Nevertheless, parents can actively set up meetings to engage with their children's teachers or head of school and be clear on their hopes and aspirations to help meet their children's needs. This can be more challenging than expected in some circumstances and may require a mediator such as an Educational Psychologist, a professional who specialises in understanding and addressing educational and developmental issues, to help bridge the gap between home and school and build a working, effective partnership to support children and young people.

A meta-analysis of studies found that effective parental engagement over a child's school journey is equivalent to adding two or three years to their education. This underscores the power of parental involvement, your power, in shaping your child's educational journey. When schools and parents listen and work together, this results in positive effects such as higher attendance rates, lower risks of exclusion, better academic results, improved emotional intelligence, and increased confidence. Also, Mleczko and Kington (2013) found that parental engagement increases when cultural identity is celebrated in school. Your involvement, your voice, can make a significant difference in your child's school experience.

Useful places for further support

We have lots more school content, check out Teachers reveal the best ways to get your children back-to-school ready and why you should never pack their bags for them as well as Confessions from parents about what they most look forward to once kids go back to school, we've got it all covered.

Dr Patricia Britto
Educational Psychologist (HCPC Registered)

Dr Britto's qualifications include a Doctorate in Professional Educational, Child and Adolescent Psychology, an MSc in Mental Health in Learning Disabilities and a BSc in Psychology.