If a child has an accident in the school, in the schoolyard, on the way to school, on the school bus or while on a school trip, the question of whether or not the school or the teachers were negligent may arise.
There is no simple answer to the question of when the school may be liable. Everything depends on the facts of the individual case.
The general law of negligence provides that a person may be negligent if
In any given case, the actual facts must be examined closely to see if all these elements are present.
There is no doubt that teachers owe a duty of care to students. When this duty starts, where it ends and precisely what constitutes a breach of duty are not nearly so clearcut.
The following general principles apply:
The duty of care applies while the students are on the school premises during school opening hours. It may also apply if the students are present outside of official school hours, e.g., if they arrive early or leave late and the teacher/school has agreed to the students being present
The same duty of care applies if a teacher voluntarily supervises children.
Teachers are required to follow good standards and approved practice. Risky classes and activities require a greater degree of supervision. If goggles, protective clothing, etc., are supplied for certain activities, it is the teacher's duty to ensure that they are worn
Teachers are not insurers and cannot be responsible for every accident in school hours. The courts accept that some accidents will happen no matter how well supervision is carried out and, in such cases, the teacher/school cannot be held liable.
The Board of Management is vicariously liable for the negligence of its teachers. That means that the board is sued in such cases.
The board is obliged to have comprehensive insurance cover for the school. This insurance must cover public liability, negligence by staff or defects in the buildings. The insurance policy must be available for inspection.
Some parents take out insurance to cover children against accidents at school that are not the responsibility of the school. Some schools encourage parents to do this. This is entirely a matter of personal choice. The general health services are available to children in the normal way if they suffer an injury at school
Schools are obliged to abide by the usual safety rules that apply to public buildings and the normal rules that apply to employee safety at work.
There are specific rules and guidelines for teachers if an issue of child abuse arises.
In general, teachers must be registered with the Teaching Council in order to be paid from public funds. Complaints may lead to withdrawal of registration on a temporary or permanent basis. The Teaching Council provides information about making a complaint to the Council about a registered teacher.
Unless there are good and sufficient reasons, the Teaching Council will generally not look into a complaint unless school complaint or grievance procedures have been exhausted. Good and sufficient reasons include where children or vulnerable adults are, or may be, at risk of harm.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000. The Phone Service will operate Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm during January 2017. You can also visit your local Citizens Information Centre.