School suspensions

For free and confidential legal advice about this topic, please contact us here. 

The rules on suspensions and expulsions are different depending on whether you go to a public government school or a private school. This page only applies if you go to a public school in New South Wales. If you go to a private, independent or Catholic school please contact us here with your question.   

Every Australian child has a right to education. This means your school cannot suspend you without very good reasons and a clear process. It also means your school must act fairly if they are planning on suspending you from school. If you think you are being unfairly punished, you may be able to appeal the decision.  

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What is a suspension?

A suspension is when the school asks you to leave school for a short time. 

What can you be suspended for?

You can be given a suspension if your behaviour is concerning and: 

  • Causes harm to any person; or 
  • Creates an unacceptable risk to the health and safety, learning or the wellbeing of any person.

Concerning behaviour may include:  

  • Physical violence; 
  • Verbal or psychological abuse;  
  • Bullying; 
  • Having drugs, weapons or knives at school; 
  • Racism or discrimination; 
  • Misusing technology (for example, using your phone to bully others or accessing inappropriate material while at school).

1. Consider your situation 

Before deciding to give you a suspension, your principal must consider a number of factors, including things like:  

  • What you did, and why you did it;
  • Any similar behaviour in the past, and if you have been suspended before;
  • Your educational and safety needs;
  • Your individual circumstances (such as a disability, trauma background, or socioeconomic disadvantage);
  • The impact of a suspension on your learning and wellbeing;
  • Whether it is safe for you to be at home during a suspension and whether you will be able to continue your learning.

Your principal should only give you a suspension after first considering all possible other ways to support you and respond to your behaviour.

2. Give you a formal caution to suspend

In most cases, your principal should give you and your parents or carers a formal caution to suspend before suspending you. This is a letter or email which will help you to understand the impact of your behaviour and give you the opportunity to access support.

However, in very serious cases you can be suspended without getting a formal caution. For example, if your behaviour poses a serious risk to another student or to a teacher.

If your principal decides to give you a caution, they must explain to you why your behaviour is concerning and give you clear expectations about how you should behave. They also have to give you and your parents or carers an opportunity to discuss with the school and support services how to better support you at school.

A formal caution will have an expiry date on it. Once this date has been reached, your principal will decide on the next steps, which may involve giving you a suspension.

3. Notify you, your parents or carers and the Department of Education 

If your principal decides to give you a suspension, your school has to let you, your parents or carers and the Department of Education know within 24 hours.

The notification to your parents or carers must be in writing, unless this is not possible. It should include information about the reasons for the suspension, how long the suspension will last, expectations for you and your parents during the suspension, and how you will continue your learning and be supported while you are away from school.

4. Organise a meeting

The principal has to give you and your parents or carers an opportunity to meet with the school, principal and/or support services to discuss how to better support you at school. The meeting can be in-person, online or over the phone.

You and your parent or carer can have a support person with you during the meeting.

5. Plan for your time away from school and your return to school 

The school must develop a plan to support you. This plan has to be made with you, your parents, school learning and support staff and other people who are giving you support. It has to include a plan for you to return to school, and after you return to school to support you with your behaviour.

Your right to be heard

Throughout the suspension process, you have the right to be heard. This means you have: 

  • The right to know why you are being suspended (or why other action is being taken by the school); 
  • The right to know the way the decision will be made; 
  • The right to know what the school is saying you did, and the information the school has about your behaviour; 
  • The right to respond to any allegations against you; 
  • The right to appeal the decision;  
  • The right to a fair investigation. 

How long can you be suspended for?

A suspension should be as short as possible. The maximum number of days for any suspension are: 

  • If you are in Kindergarten to Year 2, the maximum number of consecutive school days for a suspension is 5 school days; 
  • If you are in Year 3 to Year 12, the maximum number of consecutive school days for a suspension is 10 school days.

Principals have to get special permission from the NSW Department of Education to extend a suspension for any longer.

Principals can also usually not give you:  

  • 2 consecutive suspensions (if you have not been able to return to school in between); 
  • More than 3 suspensions per year; 
  • A suspension that starts in Term 4 and continues into Term 1 of the next year.

During a suspension

Your teachers will organise for you to have an at-home learning program during your suspension. The school must check in with you or your parent or carer regularly during your suspension to make sure that you are okay and that you are continuing with your learning.

Before you go back to school

Before you come back to school, your school needs to organise a ‘return to school planning meeting’. This is a meeting with you, your parent or carer and the principal (or other school representative) to talk about why you were suspended and work out ways to get you back at school as soon as possible and help you improve your behaviour. Other support people, such as a school counsellor, a support person for your parent or carer, and learning and support staff can also be at this meeting.

Can you appeal a suspension?

You have a right to appeal against the decision to suspend you from school if you think that the decision was unfair or the school didn’t follow the correct procedures. It’s very important that you make an appeal as soon as possible after you find out that you have been suspended. 

The way you appeal is to fill in a form and send it to your local NSW Department of Education Office. You can access the form here 

It’s important in your appeal to explain what you think is unfair, or which rules the school didn’t follow in deciding to suspend you. You should also attach any relevant documents, including the letter of suspension.  

The NSW Department of Education has to make a decision about your appeal within 15 days after receiving it.

For more information about the appeal process, see this website. 

What if you think you have been discriminated against?

Click here for more information about discrimination at school. 

What will a suspension mean for my future?

  • Your suspension will be recorded in your school’s register. However, information about your suspension is not public information as your personal information is protected by privacy laws.
  • You may be expelled from your school and in really serious cases of bad behaviour and the NSW Department of Education may refuse your admission to any government school.
  • If you want to enrol in another public school or TAFE, you must let them know if you were suspended for violent behaviour. They will then decide if you are a current risk to the safety of any person within the school or TAFE.

More information and support

If you want legal help with an issue at school, and you are under 25, you can contact us for free and confidential help here 

If you want to know more about the NSW Department of Education’s policies around student behaviour and the support options that are available, you can read the NSW Department of Education’s website here. 

If you are feeling stressed or unhappy at school, or if there is anything else that is troubling you, you can contact the Kids Helpline for 24/7 free and confidential support. Their number is 1800 55 1800 and their website is here. 

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