In this paper we problematise the notion of authority as it appears in discourse relating to school discipline. The account of authority that dominates is narrow and restricted, and the term is sometimes used as a synonym for control. This prohibits full consideration of the range of relationships in which authority manifests itself. We draw on sociological and philosophical literature, and argue that a multi-dimensional concept of authority may offer a more nuanced framework for theorising student–teacher relationships in schools. We consider how each of the forms of authority outlined by Wrong (2002)—coercive, legitimate, competent, personal and authority by inducement—may have some application to the classroom setting. In particular we explore the concept of ‘personal authority' and its potential to enhance understanding of the contested and under-theorised concept of authority. We begin by exploring ways in which the current policy context presents challenges to particular forms of authority.