I believe that there are too many school managers who are failing in their duty of care to teachers. Very often, rather than comply completely with duty of care law, managers like to run a fine line on the very edge of what is acceptable. This leaves teachers feeling like they have been failed, but can’t prove it or do anything about it.
I’m no law expert, but what I’ve done below is research duty of care law, and summarised it using my experiences and knowledge of what really goes on in school management. I hope this helps you to figure out whether something that has happened to you is ‘allowed’ and also helps you gather evidence against school managers who are doing things that aren’t.
- The key word when dealing with issues like this is ‘reasonable’. You can only expect managers to provide reasonable duty of care towards you, and there will be a point where that duty of care stops because it becomes unreasonable. Where that line is, is, you guessed it, determined from your individual circumstances and is therefore open to interpretation.
- The incident that has happened that has harmed you must also be able to be predicted in advance, as well as being able to be directly attributable to the manager in question.
- Duty of care law exists primarily to protect you from physical harm. Although it is possible you feel duty of care has been breached because you have been harmed physically, I think it is much more likely that you are looking for this information because you have been harmed psychiatrically.
- Again, duty of care law in terms of psychiatric harm exists firstly to protect you from trauma relating to specific, frightening events. I think you are more likely to be reading this because you are suffering from work related stress.
- It is only relatively recently that duty of care law has been used to convict employers for causing work related stress, but it is possible. If this has happened to you, there are other ways of using the courts to prosecute your employer, such as going down the employment tribunal route, which will not involve duty of care law.
- One of the first convictions of this kind was the 1999 case of Benson v. Wirral Metropolitan Borough, where Muriel Benson, a teacher, was able to successfully prove that her workload was unreasonably high, through duty of care law. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/461704.stm
- The key aspects of this case were that there was no stress related risk assessment in place, and that there was no offer of stress management counselling. I think it is very rare that you will find these missing in any school today.
- There was an attempt to establish a ‘Dignity at Work’ Bill in 1996, but this was blocked at the House of Commons and has never been revisited. This bill included protection against a lot of the problems teachers face today, including excessive criticism and malicious and intimidating behaviour.
- The best way for you to generate evidence of bullying is to keep a diary of what has been said and done to you at work, how that has made you feel and how that effects your work. This is more likely to help you in an employment tribunal case rather than a duty of law case.
If you need any more detailed advice, you are best contacting your union, or ACAS. I can only offer non-expert, emotional, ‘been there’ advice, which actually might be just what you’re after. If it is, remember you can email me.
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