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.
@Li. Most schools have an anti bullying policy and this is in practice throughout the day. The lunchtime assistants will be aware of the policy and in most schools they have to advice teaching staff of any issues during that occur. Speak to the head teacher first of all and ask what can be done.
LawAndParents - 11-Mar-15 @ 11:56 AM
@SunnyElls. We'd be angry in this situation too. It would have been the right thing to get this checked out at a medical facility. You could try asking to see the schools policy on this kind of thing - they usually have written procedures. Did your daughter seek the help of an alternative member of staff? Was their opinion the same? The remedy will really depend on what kind of action you would like to see. If you simply want an apology then write to the school asking for an explanation (and apology). The board of governorsor Local Education Authority should be contacted if the school does not respond. If you are seeking compensation for this, for example if your daugher's injury has been exacerbated or will result in further problems because of the delay in treatment, then you will need to seek legal advice.
LawAndParents - 10-Mar-15 @ 2:36 PM
My daughter went on a skiing trip with the school during the February half term. On the Thursday morning session she collided with another pupil and fell awkwardly breaking her wrist.She made it to the bottom, crying and holding her wrist and was told by the teacher that it was probably a sprain and they put ice on it.
The following day they took her to the slopes again and she had another accident, falling again on the damaged wrist.Her instructor advised the teachers to take my daughter to the medical facility which was on site, but they refused.One teacher told her it couldn't be broken as it wasn't swollen enough.
My daughter then had to endure a 22 hour journey home.
I am still so angry as I have heard nothing from the school except one telephone call in response to my voicemail message. The teacher who was in charge of the trip could offer no explanation as to why nobody had sought any medical assistance for my daughter who ended up in great pain for more than two days.
I am not angry that my daughter broke her wrist, I am angry that the school neglected their duty of care towards my daughter and sem to be trying to ignore the whole situation.
Any comments gratefully received.
Sunny Ells - 9-Mar-15 @ 4:36 PM
My son is 4 years old in reception class and is being bullied quite bad during lunch break by the older boys in the school, is the duty of care any different during this time as teachers are not on yard duty? This school doesn't allow you to take your child out for lunch and there is no separate play area for reception class
Lj - 8-Mar-15 @ 6:57 AM
@Krystilia. This is a very specific incident and it's not clear whether he volunteered to look after her or whether she was just left with him etc. You should seek legal advice if you think compensation wouldhelp your daughter, but some counselling and lots of love/stability in her life would be better for her.
LawAndParents - 14-Jan-15 @ 10:31 AM
My question is related to the last paragraph of this article.. negligence of someone else's child. My ex boyfriend ended up on a cruise alone with my 8 y/o daughter because I was in hospital unplanned mid-vacation. He got roaring drunk on several occasions and abandoned her in public areas. Ship security was finally involved and he was sooo drunk, they could not wake him. My daughter was scared, hungry and alone and didn't know why he wouldn't wake up. Security removed her from his custody for the night and cut off all his alcohol purchases on board. We are not a couple anymore to say the least but my daughter is so traumatized, she now needs weekly therapy and is constantly afraid. Is there anything that can be done to this man to hold him responsible for his actions? He feels no remorse at all...
Krystilia - 12-Jan-15 @ 12:29 AM
@PJK.THis is one to address with the local authority who will be the ones most likely to organise the school transport. They will have probably have a policy with the procedures recorded. If not, ask for a meeting to organise an acceptable set of procedures.
LawAndParents - 19-Nov-14 @ 2:42 PM
I am employed as a bus driver taking children with learning difficulties to and from school.
On entering the school grounds, at what point are the children the responsibility, under the terms of "in loco parentis" of the school as quite often the children are left sitting on the bus until a teacher arrives to collect them (sometimes up to 15 minutes).
In the same vein, the school day finishes at 15:15 but some of the children may not be brought to the bus until 15:30. This often causes the other children waiting on the bus to become stressed out.
If the teachers responsibilities end at the end of school hours are they showing adequate care for the children who are left waiting?
P.S. Is the children s escort on the bus under the same tems of "in loco parentis whilst the children are on the bus?
PJK - 19-Nov-14 @ 1:09 PM
@jamsin. You should be able to make an appointment with the head teacher at any time without a solicitor, that's quite ridiculous. Find out what the school's policy on this is. Most infant schools will be geared up to deal with this kind of eventuality and certainly would not have expected a five year old to manage alone. Assuming this is a state school, you should write to your local education authority about the way this has been dealt with. It's not simply the behaviour on the day (in which a teacher rightly or wrongly merely made a judgement that it was near home time), but the reaction afterwards. This has been badly handled in our opinion.
LawAndParents - 19-Nov-14 @ 11:55 AM
I am in need of some advice as to whether the incident I explain below is a form of neglect.
On the 20th October my 5 year old son had a diarrhoea accident in his P.E class. He soiled his whole bottom half and the faeces were in is shoes.
There were two teachers present and neither one of them accompanied my son or helped him.
No one called me to inform me what had happened.
My son was handed to me with a bag with his Pe Kit in it and I began asking the class teacher questions as to what happened. My son has never pooed himself before and I was curious.
I asked her if she had changed him and how bad it was and what time it happened? She said in p.eand no one helped him. In shock and anger I asked "well how did my 5 year old clean himself up" I was told on his own... I asked "did you
Give him wipes or tissue?" And again I was told no!
I asked why no one had called me she said because it was the last lesson of the day!
I went straight to the front desk and asked to see the safeguarding teacher to find out exactly why no one had phoned me. No one in theofficer was aware of the incident.
My question is , is this negligence for a teacher to leave a child like this?
I have a meeting today at 4pm that I have requested for over 3 weeks and asked to speak to the head teacher and I was told I couldn't speak to the head teacher without a solicitor!!
My son hasn't been apologised to and I still have to take him in to be taught by this teacher that didn't look after him
Jasmin - 18-Nov-14 @ 2:07 PM
@John. You are correct about the duty of the nursery but these things can happen quickly between children whilst at play. Was the injury severe enough that a hospital visit was needed? Speak to the nursery supervisor and ask what they propose to do about the incident, what their policy is in this eventuality etc. If you are satisfied with the responses and are happy that your child is not in actual danger then this should not warrant further action.
LawAndParents - 13-Nov-14 @ 10:01 AM
My 2 and a half year old grandson was bitten in the face by another child in his class.The teachers are in 'loco parentis and the Childrens
act of 1989 provides that they have a 'duty of care towards the children
under their care as well as promoting their safety and welfare.
In this particular case there is a dereliction of duty on the teachers
Would you please enlighten me of what actionifany,I can take.
My grandson is happy in this creche and the teachers say they do not
know who did the biting.
Should this ,at least constitute an investigation into who did the biting?
John - 11-Nov-14 @ 5:39 PM
@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.