15 February, 2019
Forbes has defended two unusual claims on behalf of a local authority. Two former pupils of a primary school brought a claim against the local authority alleging that they had sustained psychological and minor physical injuries as a result of being bullied by another child.
It was specifically alleged that the two pupils had suffered injury because of the negligence of the school and the failure to take adequate steps to protect the children. The Particulars of Claim contained a long list of purported incidents, many of which lacked any kind of detail or substance.
The local authority on behalf of the school robustly defended the claims. A thorough investigation confirmed that the two girls and the alleged bully were part of a friendship group, and whilst the girls would often fall out, it was nothing more than age appropriate disagreements. The allegations against the school proved to be unsubstantiated and detailed evidence was gathered from staff to confirm that the school had taken suitable and proportionate action to deal with issues as and when they had arisen.
Following the exchange of witness evidence, the two claimants discontinued their claims against the local authority.
School staff have a duty to take reasonable care to protect the children in their care; this includes protecting children from bullying and other mistreatment. In the case of Leon Carty v Croydon London Borough Council , Dyson remarked "in determining whether there has been a breach of duty in these difficult cases, the court should pay close attention to the complexity and delicacy of the decisions that education officers and education psychologists have to make, and should not find negligence too readily." Whilst Courts will be reluctant to make a finding of negligence in such situations, schools should nonetheless ensure that they are in a position to be able to defend similar claims should they arise.
We recommend that schools should consider what procedures they have in place to prevent bullying. It is of course a legal requirement for schools to have a behaviour policy pursuant to s.89 Education and Inspections Act 2006. Head teachers have a duty to encourage good behaviour and respect for others and, in particular, prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. A school's behaviour policy should include measures to prevent bullying and must be communicated to pupils and parents. In addition, schools should ensure that accident slips are completed accurately, that staff are adequately trained to deal with allegations of bullying and that complaints are always addressed in a prompt and proportionate manner.