Parental rights in education

Your child's school years are vital to their development and preparation for later life. You need to know your rights as a parent, what you can expect from your child's school and the correct procedures to take should you have a complaint.

Principles of the education system

All controlled, maintained and integrated schools must use the curriculum which sets out what most children should be taught.

Children must receive education from the start of the term after their fourth birthday - provided their birthday is before 2 July - until 30 June of the year they become 16 years of age - again provided their birthday is before 2 July.

Parents' choices

You may state your preferences for the schools you wish your children to go to. However, responsibility for admissions to any primary school lies with that school's Board of Governors. Where schools are oversubscribed, they apply published admissions criteria, drawn up by Board of Governors, to decide pupils to admit.

Check with the Education Authority (EA) in your region as they may limit the number of schools you can apply to.

You may teach your children at home. You don't have to follow the Curriculum but you must make sure that your child is educated suitably for their age and ability and for any special educational needs they may have.

What parents can expect from the school

Schools must give you a written report on your child at least once a year. This must include:

  • progress on all the subjects they have studied
  • general progress and attendance
  • results in tests and assessments

You and your child have the right to a copy of your child's school record. In some schools you have the right to vote for parent governors to represent you on the school governing body or stand for election as a parent governor yourself.

Children with special needs

A child with special needs should get help at school if they have significantly more difficulty learning than other children of the same age, or have a disability which affects how they can use educational facilities that are usually provided for children of the same age in the same area.

A learning difficulty could be the result of a disability, behaviour problems or problems learning to read.

Schools' policies on discipline and bullying

Your child's school must have a discipline policy that includes what it does to stop bullying. If your child is bullied, you should tell the school straight away. Legally, the school must do all that is reasonably possible to protect children from bullying.

The school's discipline policy and any school rules must be based on the governors' statement on how children should behave - all schools must have this. Under the Human Rights Act 1998, any punishment or treatment must not be inhuman or degrading. It must be suitable taking into account what the child has done.

Physical punishment such as smacking, caning or shaking a child is illegal in all schools. School staff may use reasonable force to stop a child:

Procedure for complaining

If you are not happy about your child's school or education and want to make a formal complaint, you should get a copy of the school's complaints procedure and follow the procedure on it as a first step.

From 1 April 2017 a person has the right to complain to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman in these cases:

  • you feel that you've  been treated unfairly or
  • have received a poor service from a school and the complaint to the school has not been solved to your satisfaction 
  • this may include how a school has handled a complaint about bullying

Find out more about the way in which a complaint can be made at the link below where you'll find a leaflet called  'Schools Information Leaflet' with this information:

If you think your child has been seriously harmed or sexually assaulted, you can complain straight away to the police or your local authority's social services department.


Parents' and children's rights

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