What Matilda tells us about the law on going to school

What Matilda tells us about the law on going to school

What’s your favourite Roald Dahl book? I love them all but one of my absolute favourites is Matilda. If you haven’t read it (or seen the film, or the musical), it’s about a brilliant little girl whose family treat her like dirt – and it’s only when she meets Miss Honey, her teacher, that an adult really starts to appreciate her. But before Matilda can find her happy ending, she has to battle her family and the monstrous Miss Trunchbull, head teacher at Crunchem Hall Primary School.

Roald Dahl’s stories do more than just capture our imaginations and keep us hooked to the very end, cheering on heroes and heroines who sometimes have to be a bit naughty themselves in order to triumph. His tales can help us understand our rights in action, and how the law in Wales works. Matilda gives us lots of opportunity to think about the law that applies in school and your rights, and also about how you should be treated by adults generally.

The law on going to school

Matilda was a little late in starting primary school. Most children begin Primary School at five or even just before, but Matilda’s parents, who weren’t very concerned one way or the other about their daughter’s education, had forgotten to make the proper arrangements. She was five and a half when she entered school for the first time.

You have the right to an education which should develop your personality and your talents to the full, and encourage you to respect your parents, your culture, and the culture of others, and the environment. These rights are part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) – Articles 28 and 29 which the Welsh Government has incorporated into Welsh law.

Your parents or carers have to make decisions about how you’ll get your education. Most children in Wales go to school. In Wales, the law says that you have to go to school from the age of 5 until you are 16. The school year runs from the start of September to the end of August, and you start school in the school year when you are 5. Different schools have different ways of settling children in school, though, so sometimes, younger children start later in in that first school year, or do short days for a time.

You don’t have to go to school as long as you’re getting your education in some other way, and home education works well for some children. Around 2,000 children in Wales are educated at home.

Matilda’s parents, Mr and Mrs Bogtrotter, should have registered Matilda so that she didn’t start school late or made sure she was getting an education some other way. It’s true that Matilda would take herself to the library and could read and do complicated multiplication by the time she did start school, but her parents hadn’t been involved in that!

The law around how you should be treated at school by teachers

If you get on the wrong side of Miss Trunchbull she can liquidize you like a carrot in a kitchen blender…All of you will be wise to remember that Miss Trunchbull deals very, very severely with anyone who gets out of line in this school

This is the advice that Miss Honey, Matilda’s teacher, gives the class on their first day at Crunchem Hall Primary School. Miss Trunchbull’s punishments include twirling children round by their plaits in the playground, forcing them to eat a whole enormous chocolate cake, and perhaps most fearsome of all, locking them ‘in The Chokey’ – a tall narrow cupboard with bits of broken glass stuck into the walls. Miss Trunchbull is also famous for making snap judgments about children and punishing them whether or not they actually misbehaved. Your school won’t have The Chokey but that doesn’t mean your school can’t do anything if you haven’t behaved in the way that’s expected at school.

Starting off with the UNCRC, Article 28 says that each country that’s signed the UNCRC has to make sure that school discipline respects your ‘human dignity’. So the UNCRC recognises that there will be discipline in school, but that you shouldn’t be bullied by teachers or publicly humiliated.

In Wales, all schools must have a system of discipline which means that you understand what behaviour is expected of you, and your teachers can deal with you if you don’t behave in the way that’s expected.

The Welsh Government has produced guidance about how schools and teachers should deal with behaviour, which you can find here. The behaviour policy in a school has to take account of the guidance, whether it’s a primary school or secondary school.

You can read more about your rights and the law in school on our website – and if you have a question about the law, please use our contact form to get in touch.

More ways to read about your rights

Books and stories often include scenarios that might happen in real life – even if they are exaggerated in the book. Whenever there’s unfairness or some other kind of problem, it’s likely that if the same thing happened in real life, there would be a law that could protect you. In our series ‘Reading my Rights’ we’ve looked at how the law would protect you:

Leave a Reply