This report aims to provide a better understanding of the Western Australian Department of Education (WA DoE) Duty of Care for Students Policy by discussing its rationale, the issues covered, its importance and who is subject to its requirements. It will also discuss the implications and applications of the policy in relation to three scenarios.
1. The Policy
Rationale for writing the policy:
The rationale for writing the WA DoE Duty of Care for Students Policy is to provide clear guidelines for teaching staff to follow to ensure the duty of care for students has been met. Tronc (as cited in Newnham, 2000, p. 50) argues “Teachers have a legal responsibility for the safety of their students”. The WA DoE Duty of Care for Students Policy was designed to enable teachers to meet their legal obligations by protecting students from harm where the risk of injury is reasonably foreseeable. Furthermore, the policy provides a point of reference for teachers when using their professional judgement to make day-to-day decisions and assess risks associated with student activities.
What issues does the policy cover?
The leading issue of the WA DoE Duty of Care for Students Policy is stated in Section 1.A “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 DoE, 2007, p. 3). This means teachers are legally responsible to protect students from reasonably foreseeable risks of harm whenever a relationship exists between a teacher and a student. Some examples include in the playground, the classroom or during a school excursion.
The second important issue addressed in the WA DoE Duty of Care for Students Policy is how teachers use their professional judgement to assess dangers, guard against risk of injury to students, and determine levels of care required, based on their knowledge of individual students and the type of school activity undertaken. For example, a higher level of care would be required when taking a kindergarten student that is a non-swimmer, and suffers from asthma, to their first school swimming carnival, than taking an older student that is a confident swimmer, with no known medical conditions.
Another important issue contained in the WA DoE Duty of Care for Students Policy involves how teachers may execute their duty of care responsibilities. Some situations may require a teacher to personally care for students, and some situations may allow a teacher to elect another person, for example, a teachers’ aide, to provide this care. Providing this other person has agreed to personally care for students, without the presence of a teacher, “they will also owe a duty…to protect students from risks of harm” (WA DoE, 2007, p. 3). It is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure the person is suitable, has agreed to the task and has been instructed on the level of care...