Your basic duty as a teacher is to take care of the pupils in your charge. You must always bear in mind the age, ability and aptitude and any special educational needs of your pupils when deciding on any particular course of action. You should try not to leave a class unsupervised but if for some reason you have to, you should first consider the general nature of the class, the estimated time you will be away from them and the proximity of other teachers, before making a decision.
In one case, a secondary pupil suffered an eye injury from a rubber thrown by another pupil after the teacher had left the room for a few minutes. Both the Lower Court and Appeal Court rejected the pupil's claim for damages. They confirmed that a teacher has to display forethought, having regard to pupils' ages and propensity for high spirits, but fault could only be established if the accident was more likely to happen while a teacher has been absent for a short while. The judges considered that such an incident as this was not unusual in classroom life. It could have occurred with the teacher present but their back turned.
Courts have long recognised it is sometimes necessary for teachers to leave classes unattended but, as in all cases of negligence, the outcome depends on the actual facts of the case. It is better for schools to be certain and to have procedures in place that enable teachers to report that a class is about to be left and to ensure that other supervision will come into play as soon as reasonably practicable.
Chris Lowe, Former headteacher, trade union adviser and chief editor of QGP.