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Analyse the Duty of Care for Students policy document from the WA Department of Education (see http://www.det.wa.edu.au/policies/detcms/policy-planning-and-accountability/policies-framework/policies/duty-of-care-for-students.en?oid=au.edu.wa.det.cms.conte Essay Example

  • Category:
    Education
  • Document type:
    Assignment
  • Level:
    Undergraduate
  • Page:
    3
  • Words:
    1613

Duty of Care Policy

The duty of care policy for students was prepared and published by the Department of Education (DoE) and is entrenched in the Australian common law. It basically outlines the duties, responsibilities and situations in which the interests of the students are well taken care of and any harm to them is minimized. The major players in the duty of care policy are the teachers, the support staff, providers of educational services from outside the schools and those who volunteer to work with students. At the centre of this policy are the learners, their safety, wellbeing and protection from harm. The policy puts the business of caring for the students squarely in the hands of the major stakeholders and partners in education. As such, it is incumbent upon this report to interrogate the concerns of the policy with a view of putting into perspective the importance of the policy. This report further examines hypothetical scenarios in schools in which the duty of care policy for students finds relevance.

The duty of care policy for students is threefold in principle. The first provision states that it is the responsibility of the teaching staff to ensure that students are safe and out of any danger while they are in school or in a school activity such as an excursion. Secondly, the policy mandates the teachers to professionally discharge their duties in a way that they strike a balance between ensuring safety for the students and making the best of the students’ time in school for teaching the learners cognitive skills as well as independence of thought and character. The last aspect of the duty of care policy makes the students’ care and safety the responsibility of the support staff, external providers and volunteers in the educational institutions or programmes in the absence of the teaching staff. It is however important to mention at this juncture that the risks from which students are protected by the officers identified by the policy are limited. In the first place, these risks, the policy specifies, are known hazards or risks that are reasonably foreseeable. Secondly they are risks which can be prevented. The teachers, for example, may be aware of the risk of lightning in a storm but they may not stop it from happening. The students can only be told to be under shelter. Lastly the officer is liable only when the risks are likely to occur in a school or in an activity organized by a school.

The rationale of the duty of care policy for students seemingly emanates from the issues of vulnerability and responsibility. The students, majority who are children, are vulnerable since they may be unaware of hazards in school or less prepared for them. This predisposes them to risks if left unchecked or unguided. Teachers, support staff, external providers and volunteers who are presumably more knowledgeable and better prepared for harmful situations need to remove the learners from hazardous situations, warn, guide and prepare them to prevent harm from reaching them. The other side of the rationale lies in responsibility. Somebody must be in charge of safety of students and that person in light of the duty of care policy is the trained personnel around the student. The assumption in all cases is that some hazards in schools or other learning environment are foreseeable and known to the education personnel. The provisions of this policy are part of the wider policy on Safety and Welfare within the School Education Regulations Act of 2000 (DoE).

The major issues in the duty of care policy for students include: student protection from known and preventable harm in school, situations outside school in which the policy applies and how teachers can maximize learning opportunities for students in school. These issues are best encapsulated by what the policy calls “safety and welfare” of the students. In protecting the student while in school and its activities, the policy requires all the education officers and the other related staff to identify and timely prevent anything that may sexually, physically, psychologically and emotionally harm the student. This also includes dangers that may result from acts of negligence of the child and risks arising from alcohol and substance abuse within the school premises or venues of school activities. The situations outside the school the policy mentions are generally locations for school activities. Particular references are made to excursions, outdoor education recreational activities, and student drivers, students in apprenticeships and students online. It is the duty of the officer in charge of the students while they undertake these activities to ensure their safety and welfare. Maximizing learning opportunities means that the teacher should not solely concentrate on the protection of the student at the expense of learning and vice versa. The policy talks of a teacher working out a professional ‘balance’. It should also not be lost to the teachers that it is their role to nurture independence in the learners without necessarily exposing them to risk.

The merits of this policy cannot be overemphasized. The spirit of the duty of care for students guarantees that parents and guardians need not worry about the safety of their children while at school. The issue of accountability is also of essence in this policy. The school administration, by the letter of this policy, is accountable for the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of the child while at school. This policy complements another policy by the Department of Education on attendance in which the principal is solely responsible for recording, monitoring and reporting attendance in school. All the students recorded as present in school are accorded requisite protection and care defined in the duty of care policy.

In the hypothetical event that a number of students arrive early to school at about 7:40 a.m. each morning while the first teachers usually arrive about thirty minutes later, the provisions of the duty of care for students are grossly contravened. In the first place the students are left exposed to risks like attack from intruders and their own risky behaviour like fighting, or sex abuse. Incase a student falls ill or gets injured, there is nobody to intervene. This may result to critical losses including deaths. The safety of the students in this scenario is therefore not guaranteed. Similarly, the time the students are in school which needs to be maximized in gainful engagement is wasted. The students would have learnt a lot and gained more if the teachers were in school on time. Lastly, if the students were hurt at this time, there would be no one to be responsible or accountable. To correct such a situation, the policy provides three scenarios. The principal should be present in school. The other alternative which is better is to have all teachers in school on time. The third scenario which should be the last resort is to ask the non teaching staff to report early in school and watch over the students while the teachers are away.

Another hypothetical scenario is whereby on a school excursion trip the teachers and the non-teaching staff send the students to a hotel for lunch as the former go for lunch in another hotel fifty miles away. The risk involved here are numerous. The learners may take alcoholic drinks, may be abused sexually or decide to take a walk to unknown destinations. Young ones may be overrun by vehicles. These incidents may endanger them physically and emotionally. Such a scenario goes against the spirit and letter of the care of duty policy for students. The policy envisages that in such a trip, the accompanying teachers (if they must go) should leave the students with the non-teaching staff. The non-teaching staff in this case would responsible for the students’ safety.

Another scenario is whereby fire caused by a faulty electric switch breaks out in the school dormitory in the ground floor and several students are burnt, some fatally, others escape with high degree burns. The fire alarm systems are faulty, the key to the emergency door is missing and the windows of the hostel are barricaded with steel grills to ward of thieves of prevent students from sneaking out of school. This is a major breach of the care of care policy. The school administration is squarely to blame for ignoring the provisions of the policy. The policy clearly stipulates that it is the responsibility of the head teacher to ensure that known hazards or foreseeable risks do not harm the students. Fire breakout is both known and foreseeable. The policy is also clear on dangers whose preventive measures are known and fire breakout is one of such. The school administration should have therefore put in place efficient fire alarm and response systems in place. Such measures should have included having an efficient alarm system, having the key to the emergency door near placed near it and having windows of the dormitory free from any obstruction. This would have prevented the loss of life and injury.

In conclusion, it is evident that both the spirit and the letter of the duty of care policy serve to protect the lives of the learners while in school and school functions. The three hypothetical scenarios present tragedies that could be avoided if the policy was adhered to. The question that remains to be answered is whether our teacher training curriculum adequately addresses the implications of this policy document. Are the teachers, non-teaching staff, external providers and volunteers properly equipped to adequately provide the students with safety and welfare?

Works Cited

DoE. Policies: the duty of care for students.2011.

http://www.det.wa.edu.au/policies/detcms/navigation/safety-and-welfare/duty-of-care-for-students/?oid=Category-id-3457100

ChildA child is defined as a person who has not reached the age of 18.