Teachers' Duty of Care

Presentation and Case Studies

The teaching profession sets down demanding standards for its members in relation to the duty of care, an obligation which covers high standards in both educational provision and pupils’ welfare and well-being. Increasingly, this professional code has been underpinned by a wide-ranging statutory framework.

Historically, teachers’ duty of care was seen very much in terms of pupil welfare and supervision. However, the past two decades have seen much greater public accountability in terms of educational standards (published OFSTED reports, league tables, etc.). It is important to be aware that teachers and other education professionals are increasingly facing negligence claims relating to the performance of their professional duties.

A landmark decision in the 1990s by the House of Lords concluded:

“……a school which accepts a pupil assumes responsibility not only for his physical well-being but also for his educational needs. The education of the pupil is the very purpose for which the child goes to the school.”

In a litigious consumer society, where the focus is on individual rights and entitlements, there is an increasing tendency to challenge and claim damages where rights are perceived not to have been fulfilled.

In education, this tendency has been most marked in situations where a child’s educational attainment, as measured by current benchmarks, does not match parental or pupil expectations. For example, there have been several legal challenges – to either an individual school or an LEA – about the adequacy of the provision made for children with Special Educational Needs. Other challenges have related to the accuracy of ‘A’ level grade predictions and their consequences for university admission.

A healthy sense of perspective must be maintained. The level of claims and challenges against schools is low and, to date, almost all challenges have been unsuccessful. Nevertheless, it underlines the need for schools to develop clear policies and to implement best practice, and for individual teachers to be adhering to school policies and best practice in their day-to-day work with pupils.

Teachers have a legal duty to take reasonable care of pupils who are in their charge.

This obligation comes from three sources:

First, the common law. The term ‘in loco parentis’, which means ‘standing in the place of parents’, is a common law duty regulating the conduct of everyone who works with children. Teachers have a ‘duty of care’ towards the pupils in their charge. The common law is largely made by judges who adjudicate in cases that then become 'case law';

Second, statutory requirements which modify or interpret the common law in certain respects. For example, the Children Act 1989 states that a person who has care of a child must do all that is reasonable under the circumstances to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. This applies to teachers and gives them the power to promote a child’s welfare in a more positive way – it makes the duty owed much more child-centred. In other words, the emphasis of the law has moved away from standing in place of the parents and taking into account their preferences towards the welfare of the child. This trend has been supported by the adoption, in the early 1990s, of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and, more recently, by the Human Rights Act, 1998. These measures confer on children a full range of human rights;

Third, teachers’ contractual obligations. Under the terms of the ‘Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document’, teachers have a contractual duty to:

- promote the general progress and well-being of individual pupils and classes;
- maintain good order and discipline among the pupils;
- safeguard pupils’ health and safety both when they are authorised to be on the school premises and when they are engaged in authorised school activities elsewhere;
- provide guidance and advice on educational and social matters;
- make records of, and reports on, the personal and social needs of pupils.

> The Exercise of the Duty of Care by Teachers
> Negligence
> The Standard of Teacher's Duty of Care
> The Health and Safety At Work Act, 1974
> The Supervision of Pupils
> Conclusion
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