Teachers duty of care

Introduction

Accidents at school

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.

Rules

Teachers' duty of care

The general law of negligence provides that a person may be negligent if

  • They owe a duty of care to the person injured and
  • They did not carry out that duty to the legal standard required and
  • The person suffered damage as a result of the failure to observe the duty of care.

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. There is no simple answer as to when this duty starts, where it ends and precisely what constitutes a breach of duty.

The following general principles apply:

  • Teachers must take reasonable care to ensure that their students do not meet with foreseeable injury. They have a duty to protect the children against foreseeable risks of personal injury or harm.
  • The standard of care is that of a reasonably careful parent. The degree of care depends on factors such as the age of the students.
  • There must be an effective system of supervision in operation in the school.

The duty of care applies while the students are on the school premises during school opening hours. It can also apply if the students are present outside of official school hours, for example, if they arrive early or leave late and the teacher or school has agreed to the students being present.

The same duty of care applies if a teacher voluntarily supervises children.

Teachers must 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 or school cannot be held liable.

Insurance

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.

Safety standards in schools

Schools must follow the usual safety rules that apply to public buildings and the normal rules that apply to employee safety at work.

School discipline

Schools must have a code of behaviour in relation to school discipline and bullying and teachers are obliged to behave in accordance with that code.

Child abuse

There are specific rules and guidelines for teachers if an issue of child abuse arises.

Professional ability

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.

Page edited: 28 November 2019