Q. During a field trip in the countryside, one of our pupils, disobeying the party leader, went on to private land and damaged the property of the landowner. The school has received a claim for Pounds 300 in damages. Who is responsible - the pupil, his father, the teacher in charge, the school or the local authority?
A. Although the pupil must be held responsible for both the disobedience and the damage and be suitably punished on both counts, this will be of minor interest to the person whose property has been damaged. He will want his bill paid.
The teacher in charge is responsible for exercising reasonable supervision, having regard to the age of the pupils and the circumstances in which they were working. The head will wish to be satisfied that nothing was lacking in this respect. If it was, it may be necessary to consider some disciplinary action against the teacher.
The school and - in practical terms - the head are responsible for ensuring that all school trips are properly arranged and run in accordance with clearly stated and understood school policies. This includes making sure that adequate insurance is taken out to cover risks of personal accident and injury to pupils and staff, and third party liability.
The local authority is responsible for advising schools on their policies in these matters and for any collective liability which they have for all their employees, whether covered by insurance or not. They also provide legal services to which claims of this nature should be referred as a matter of course.
The most likely outcome of this case is that, unless the landowner had been negligent in caring for his property, the local education authority will accept that there is a legitimate claim which should be met by passing it to the insurance company which issued the policy covering the trip in question.
If there was no such policy, the head should expect a rocket and the LEA will probably settle ex gratia or advise the school to do so.
Questions should be sent to Helpline, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY.