Last updated 8 August 2016
Principals must by law provide a safe, supportive and productive learning environment. Each school’s Responsible Behaviour Plan for Students is expected to respond to issues such as bullying (including cyber bullying) and internet use (cyber safety). Failure on the part of a school to have a plan for responding to bullying or failure by the school to act in accordance with such plans could assist in supporting a claim against the school where a student suffers injury (emotional, mental or physical) as a consequence.
Teachers stand in the place of a parent while students are in their care. Teachers therefore have the responsibility of exercising a duty of care in relation to the children as well as having the authority to provide the child with direction and correction.
Children are under the supervision of their teachers not only during classroom activities, but also during recess, lunchtime, sporting events and excursions.
A teacher (and a school) may be liable for negligence where a pupil is injured in an accident while under their supervision (see Commonwealth v Introvigne (1982) 150 CLR 258; Ramsay v Larsen (1964) 111 CLR 16). The responsibility of a teacher to prevent accidents that injure pupils is similar to that of a careful parent. Teachers must assess the likelihood of danger arising in relation to activities involving a level of risk (e.g. at chemistry experiments, swimming events or on excursions) and take necessary precautions.
In deciding whether a teacher has been negligent, the courts will consider whether the teacher has taken reasonable care in all the circumstances to prevent injury to the child in accordance with the usual legal principles relating to negligence (see chapter on Accidents and Injury).
Child safety concerns
A school staff member must immediately make a written report if they become aware or reasonably suspect the sexual abuse or likely sexual abuse of a student under 18 years (ss 365, 365A Education (General Provisions) Act 2006 (Qld)).
A teacher must make a report if they reasonably and honestly suspect a child has suffered, is suffering or is at risk of suffering significant harm caused by physical or sexual abuse, and may not have a parent able and willing to protect the child from harm (s 13E Child Protection Act 1999 (Qld)).