Legal stuff

Duty of Care

In addition to providing appropriate teaching to meet the varying needs of your pupils, you, like all teachers, have "a duty of care". This means that as a responsible adult you have a legal responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of your pupils.

To fulfil this legal responsibility you must always act in a manner that a court of law would consider "reasonable" in the circumstances. What is considered "reasonable" would be influenced by the:

  • number of the children in your care;
  • age and ability of the children;
  • activity taking place;
  • environment in which the activity takes place.

You must ensure that you are familiar with the school's and the Department of Education and Communities (DEC) procedures and always work within them.

Accidents can still happen, even to the most experienced of teachers and in the best regulated classrooms. However, you will not have breached your duty of care unless you can be proved to have been negligent.

Negligence is:

  • an action which could reasonably have been expected to contribute, directly or indirectly, to causing harm to a student;
  • a failure to take action to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm to a student.

Physical Contact

Unnecessary physical contact with pupils should be avoided as even the most innocent of actions can be misconstrued. However, reasonable physical restraint may be used if the actions of a pupil are likely to be harmful to themselves or to others, or result in damage to property, including their own.

Following any accident or incident, no matter how trivial it may seem at the time, a report should be made to your mentor without delay. In some circumstances a report form will need to be completed. See the Federation's Welfare Leaflet: Child protection - advice you may need.

Pupils' property

It is generally not a good idea to confiscate students' personal property. The only exceptions are where the item is:

  • prohibited by DEC policies;
  • is a breach of the school's discipline and welfare code;
  • or where the item poses an immediate or foreseeable risk to either the student or others.

Property taken into your safekeeping or confiscated during a lesson or activity becomes your responsibility and you must take "reasonable care" of it. However, you are not liable should they be stolen by forced entry into a locked drawer or cupboard, as you will have fulfilled your legal responsibilities. In most circumstances any item should be given to the classroom teacher and /or 'teacher tutor' and the incident reported especially if it is a breach of DEC policy or the school's discipline and welfare policy. If the item is dangerous or illegal it should immediately reported and put in the safekeeping of the school's principal. The matter will need to be reported to the Police.

Child Protection

Notification of suspected child sexual assault is mandatory under the Children (Care and Protection) Act 1987 for teachers, counsellors, social workers and early childhood teachers working at a school.

Notification of suspected child sexual assault is mandatory under the Children (Care and Protection) Act 1987 for teachers, counsellors, social workers and early childhood teachers working at a school.In addition to the above requirement, the Department of Education and Training under Protecting and Supporting Children and Young People Revised Procedures (December 2000) requires that all other school staff notify suspected child sexual assault as well as physical and emotional abuse or neglect.

Failure to notify suspected abuse or neglect of students may lead, and has led, to Departmental disciplinary action being taken against teachers and principals.

Teachers and, in fact, all workers in child related employment are placed in an invidious position. All their actions are placed under scrutiny and are open to complaint. Even the most innocent and normal everyday activities of teachers are unduly scrutinised. This is not in itself new, but what is new is that complaints will be recorded, investigated and maintained on file, no matter what the outcome.

For more information see Federation Welfare leaflet: Child protection - advice you may need.