Duty of care is a legal concept originating from common law and is considered the driving force behind most school policies, guidelines and practices. Duty of care outlines the responsibility one must undertake to ensure that reasonable steps are in place to protect the safety or well-being of others. Within these parameters teachers must manage their classrooms and school activities, maintain order and discipline, and make every effort to understand their legal rights and those of their students, (Whitton et al, 2010).
The required duty of care for teaching institutions is controlled by the individual State Education Departments. Each State Department has developed their own set of policies and guidelines outlining duty of care.
Although duty of care is a legislated policy compulsory for government schools, many of the issues in the legislation are relevant to non-government schools and should therefore be incorporated into all Australian schools, (Hopkins, 2002).
1. The Policy
The Western Australia Department of Education and Training (WA DET) Duty of Care Policy is designed to ensure the safety and welfare of staff, students, and visitors undertaking school based activities at WA educational institutions. The policy outlines three key responsibilities. Point a) states “Teaching staff owe a duty to take reasonable care for the safety and welfare of students whilst students are involved in school activities or are present for the purposes of a school activity,” (WA DET, 2007). A Teacher’s duty of care is not limited to a specific circumstance but extends to all times when students are in seen to be in their care and under the direction of the school policies. The environment that a teacher is required to exercise a duty of care can vary from classroom activities, sporting activities, excursions, or ensuring the health and safety of work placements and visitors to the school. (Leigh D, 2009).
It is the legal responsibility of principals and teaching staff to educate themselves in the laws, policies and acts relating to educational institutions and know how to enforce them. Point b) of the WA DET Duty of Care Policy addresses the need for teachers understand how these are to be implemented and ensure they “achieve a balance between ensuring that students do not face an unreasonable risk of harm and encouraging students' independence and maximising learning opportunities.” (WA DET, 2007).
For schools, duty of care is not limited to the teachers but may also be required of non-teaching staff. The WA DET duty of care policy point c) describes that “when volunteers or an external providers agree to perform tasks that require them personally to care for Students, (in the absence of a member of the teacher), they will also owe a duty to take such measures as are reasonable in all the circumstances to protect students from risks of harm that reasonably ought to be foreseen,” (WA DET, 2007). Factors’ influencing the...