Publication

Rising Class Sizes and Rising Duty of Care - 5 Tips for Staff

by Alex Kohn and Raymon Anderson
25 October 2012
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Staff obligations on the rise

A full class of students can be a handful for teachers, even more so during practical activities and excursions. Injured plaintiffs commonly allege that educational institutions have breached their duty of care to students by failing to properly supervise and highlight the need for staff to remain vigilant.

Projected increases of class sizes by more than 20% are likely to place additional burden on the already difficult job staff have to continually supervise, monitor, risk assess and trouble shoot issues as they arise.

This projected increase in class sizes arises from a report released by Infrastructure NSW which has suggested existing schools accommodate 90% of the projected increase from 752,000 students to about 1,000,000 students.

Five tips for staff

For staff to continue to cope with current demands in discharging their duty of care and prepare to meet the increasing demands that seem likely to follow, we suggest the following best practice guidelines:

  • Develop an activity plan and perform a risk assessment of those activities.
  • Provide instructions, written if possible, prior to new activities, and have those instructions available for review and periodically refresh instructions to the class. 
  • Conduct periodic reviews of the learning environment and equipment for identification of hazards. 
  • Proactively seek, receive and action any problems that are identified with student conduct, equipment etc. and keep a written log of the issue and the resolution. 
  • Set physical boundaries for activities such as classroom or oval and conduct supervision in a roaming fashion between the central point and boundary areas to ensure a close proximity to the most students and the opportunity to assess activities from different points of view.

 Beware - trap to avoid

Activities such as excursions sometimes involve staff inexperienced in the chosen activity entrusting students to third party experts for those activities such as rock-climbing or skiing.

While it is appropriate to seek assistance from skilled contractors or organisations, courts have held that it will not discharge staff from their non-delegable duty to students.

It is still necessary for staff to ensure that the third party service provider is appropriately qualified, the premises are suitable, the activities appear well controlled and the equipment appears appropriate. Otherwise, the school will not have discharged it's duty of care.