Legal duty of care

Principals and teachers are held to a high standard of care in relation to students.


Take all reasonable steps

The duty of care requires principals and teachers to take all reasonable steps to reduce risk, including:

  • provision of suitable and safe premises
  • provision of an adequate system of supervision
  • implementation of strategies to prevent bullying
  • ensuring that medical assistance is provided to a sick or injured student.

The duty of care is non-delegable, meaning that it cannot be assigned to another party.

Student-teacher relationship

Whenever a teacher-student relationship exists, teachers have a special duty of care. This has been expressed as:

“a teacher is to take such measures as are reasonable in the circumstances to protect a student under the teacher’s charge from risks of injury that the teacher should reasonably have foreseen.” (Richards v State of Victoria).

Injury may include not only physical harm but also psychological distress. The nature and extent of the duty will vary according to the circumstances. The important issue in all cases would be what precautions the school could reasonably be expected to have taken to prevent the injury from occurring. This will involve consideration of the following factors:

  • the probability that the harm would occur if care were not taken
  • the likely seriousness of the harm
  • the burden of taking precautions to avoid the risk of harm
  • the social utility of the activity that creates the risk of harm.

For more information, see Duty of Care.