Beyond the school gates

23rd May 2008 at 01:00
Do schools have either a duty of care for their pupils, or a responsibility for their behaviour, beyond the school gate? The answer, until now, has been "No"
Do schools have either a duty of care for their pupils, or a responsibility for their behaviour, beyond the school gate? The answer, until now, has been "No". It is hard to see how a school can be responsible for young people whose parents give up their powers and duties only while the children are under the lawful control of the school.

Certainly, the school does have responsibility where it takes children out of school, or where it assumes a duty of care by, say, undertaking to get children on to school buses outside the school gates. But is it reasonable that, beyond those instances, the school should be held to account?

The leading case that explored bullying on the way to and from school reasserted that teachers' duty of care normally ends at the school gate. However, the judge ruled that if something were to happen immediately outside that gate, a teacher would be expected to intervene. He also accepted the view of experts that there would be a duty to intervene where bullying outside school impinged upon life inside.

Schools' statutory powers to impose sanctions and regulate behaviour outside school also begins to raise the question as to whether there is the beginning of a duty of care outside school. The guidance on using these powers envisages that a school might wish to regulate pupils' conduct on public transport. Certainly, a school would have to consider whether cyber-bullying out of school was affecting relationships in school.

The balance may be tipping towards a duty, as well as a power, to intervene.

Richard Bird, Legal consultant to the Association of School and College Leaders.

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