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Week in perspective

This week...Damages for bullying victims. Teacher faces jail over trip death. pound;43m to cut truancy

TWO court cases this week raised fears that schools could face a flood of claims from former pupils who were victims of bullies.

First, a schoolboy won pound;1,500 after suffering 18 months of verbal abuse. In what is believed to be the first ruling of its kind, a judge at Manchester County Court ruled that Sale grammar school had failed in its duty to protect him. Previous awards for bullying had been the result of out-of-court settlements.

The 12-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was dubbed a "lanky loner" by fellow pupils and was sexually assaulted on a school trip. He is now 17.

Judge Richard Holman ruled that teachers could not have foreseen that the bullying would lead to the assault. But he said the school's failure to stop the verbal abuse amounted to a breach in its duty of care.

"The school is not on trial. All three teachers who gave evidence are plainly dedicated, with the interests of the children at heart, but nobody is perfect," he said.

In a separate case, a teenage girl launched a legal battle against West Sussex County Council claiming that it failed to protect her from school bullies. Leah Bradford Smart says she suffered personal injuries as a result of the council's negligence and is suing them for pound;75,000.

And it is not just bullying problems that could land teachers in court. The French authorities announced this week that a teacher from England has been charged with involuntary manslaughter after the death of a pupil during a school trip across the Channel.

Gemma Carter from Cockburn high school, Leeds, drowed during a visit to the beach. The news followed the tragic death two weeks ago of two schoolgirls in the Yorkshire Dales.

There was happier news for Marjorie Evans, headteacher of St Mary's junior school, Caldicot, Monmouthshire, who became a cause celebre after being cleared of slapping a 10-year-old pupil. Gwent police announced that she would not be charged in connection with further allegations of mistreating pupils.Governors were due to meet this week to decide her future at the school

Ministers have ordered their own crackdown on bad behaviour this week with a pound;43 million package to cut truancy.

Education Secretary David Blunkett admitted that more needed to be done. "We have made progress in reducing the number of excluded children, but we have made very little in terms of persistent truancy," he said.

The money will be used to put more attendance officers into inner-city schools and fund "truancy buster" awards of up to pound;10,000 for those schools showing the greatest improvements.

Fines for parents whose children are persistent truants will also be doubled to pound;2,000 with the possibility of up to three months in jail.

More cash will also be made available to the new revamped careers and youth advice service "Connexions" which will be launched in July.

Mr Blunkett announced that the new service would receive pound;420m per year by 2002-3 - pound;177m more than is currently spent on the careers service.

Initially the service, which will offer advice on problems such as drugs and homelessness as well as careers, will be available to young people in 16 areas. However, all 13 to 19-year-olds will eventually have access to the scheme.

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