You may have heard the phrase ‘in loco parentis’ many times before, but did you know that it actually has legal significance when it comes to looking after other people’s children – either on a casual or educational basis. ‘In loco parentis’ is Latin for ‘instead of a parent’ and in English law it applies in several circumstances.
Examples Of The Duty Of Care
When you leave your child at the school gates you are in effect agreeing to allow the teachers and other staff at the school to act ‘in loco parentis’. You also act in loco parentis when your child’s friends come to stay, or if you take your children and other people’s children on a trip to a local park. Babysitters, childminders, nursery assistants, crèche supervisors and holiday camp supervisors also assume a duty of care during the course of their employment.
So what does this legal definition actually mean in practical terms? There are two statutory provisions that relate to the role of teachers acting in loco parentis: first, the Children Act 1989 provides that teachers have a duty of care towards the children under their supervision, as well as promoting the safety and welfare of the children in their care. The level of this duty of care is measured as being that of a ‘reasonable parent.’
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 puts a further obligation on the school as a whole to safeguard the wellbeing and safety of pupils in its care.
Increasingly, and with the rise of compensation culture, teachers have grown to dread organising and supervising school trips. The law provides that teachers have the legal responsibility for pupils under their supervision while on the trip, but in practical terms it is impossible to anticipate each and every potential danger. Therefore, the courts have tended to emphasise the ‘reasonableness’ aspect of the duty of care in deciding cases.
What Teachers Can and Can’t Do
Teachers are not responsible for children after school hours. If a child is not collected after school, the child can be referred to social services.
Teachers are not required to administer medicine to pupils, but should keep a note of pupils who have medical conditions.
If a child is endangering themselves or others, the teacher is entitled to use ‘reasonable force’ to stop them. However, there are risks involved with this due to the threat of legal challenges and/or being assaulted.
Teachers do not have to supervise pupils during the lunch break.
What It Means To Parents
If you are looking after someone else’s children in a casual capacity, for example, if your child’s friend is staying with you, or you are taking a group of children to a theme park, swimming pool, or other type of outing, then you should exercise the same care and skill in terms of caring for that child as you do your own children (assuming, that is, that you are already a ‘reasonable’ parent, although if you weren’t you’d be unlikely to be given charge of others’ children).
If you put a child in danger or are negligent in the way that you care for someone else’s child, you may be sued by the child’s parents for damages. In these circumstances, you should seek professional advice without delay.
@simes. Schools generally undertake risk assessments for most activities and the guidelines for these are laid down by LEAs. It's not really taking away civil liberties, just keeping them safe when they're not with their parents. There's nothing to stop you as a parent offering them the chance to take risks out of school time though.
LawAndParents - 23-Jul-14 @ 2:09 PM
What recourse do parents have if they feel schools/teachers are unduly restricting the civil liberties of their children by placing unnecessarily cautious/risk averse restrictions on the activities the school/teachers will let children undertake?How as parents do we challengethese restrictions which seem to be becoming all to common place and pervasive (and totally at odds with policies encouraging healthy/active lifestyles).
simes - 23-Jul-14 @ 11:21 AM
What if there is a conflict between 'loco parentis' and 'parent',which has ultimate control and responsibility over the child?
Can a parent annul the 'reasonable parent' of those in loco parentis if they are reasonably judged to be wrong or 'unreasonable' ?
steve - 27-Aug-13 @ 3:49 PM
I run a Beaver Scout colony and whilst I understand the implications of "Loco Parentis" if one of the boys had to go to hospital and we could not locate the single parent who had refused to provide a second contact, what would my rights be with regard to authorising treatment?
Sally - 13-Nov-12 @ 1:51 PM
My daughter was asked to provide a written signed statement about an incident that happend at school. The school did this without my knowledge or approval. Can they do this? Their reply was that under in loco parentis they can.
billy - 19-Oct-12 @ 2:51 PM
I understand the above posters frustrations but there are other variables you need to consider in relation to the teacher. Did they see the students leaving the room? That isn't made clear, if there were not aware the children had left the room they would have been unable to stop them from doing so. Understandably they should be aware of where all their pupils are but that can be very difficult in a room of 30+. If the teacher had then of noticed the pupils had gone, and subsequently followed them, they then no longer have careful watch over the other children, which would rightfully be against school policy i assume. At the end of the day, yes the teacher probably could have acted differently but i think it is unfair (based on the limited info given) to fully blame the teacher for this incident.
MrJay - 13-Mar-12 @ 11:52 PM
a friends son recently left a class mid session acompanied by another boy, it was a classroom with a shut but not locked door. They proceeded to go to an outside space and have a fight, my friends son took the first punches and then to defend himself so as to not sustain anyfuther punishment relaleated and left the boy with a broken nose. My friends son has been permently excluded whilst the other boy is allowed back in to school. My argument is that firstly the teacher is at fault by not acting in loco parentis and trying to prevent the boys from leaving or by following them to prevent the insueing fight, but also it could be said that although the other boy sustained greater injury my friends son did it by defending himself. Any coments would be gratfully recieved.