Schools' duty of care

Schools and their teaching staff have a duty to take reasonable care for the safety and wellbeing of students while students are at school or are involved in a school activity.

Satisfying this duty of care involves:

  • Providing a safe environment for students and staff
  • Providing supervision of students
  • Implementing anti-bullying strategies
  • Caring for injured students (injury can stem from psychological as well as physical harm)
  • Taking reasonable precautions to prevent a foreseeable and significant risk
  • Taking precautions to avoid the risk of harm, taking into account the social utility of the risk-creating activity.

Meeting this duty of care is becoming more difficult with the rapid increase of digital technologies. If cyber bullying (taking place outside of school hours) impacts on a student's wellbeing, the school might be considered to have a duty of care extending beyond the child's time at school.

Schools might be liable for psychological injury resulting from cyber bullying[1] and need to be clear about where their duty of care in this respect begins and ends. Schools need to adopt risk management approaches until this has greater clarity[2]. To minimise risk, schools are advised to[3]:

  • Learn about the online world and cyber bullying
  • Amend and update policies to take cyber bullying into account
  • Train staff in these policies and how to ensure their students are cyber safe
  • Ensure they understand the effects of bullying on young people
  • Gather information on bullying in the particular setting and discuss its implications
  • Use positive student management
  • Adopt proactive ways of dealing with prejudice and discrimination
  • Educate parents and students.

[1] Goff, W., Presentation delivered at Digital Diversity conference, Melbourne 2010

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ford, D., Cyber bullying, June 2007

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