“In Loco Parentis”
In a few weeks’ time, my usual brood of children will temporarily drop down from 3 to 2. One will be participating in the Year 8 trip to Normandy whilst the other will be heading for the ski slopes of Alpe d’Huez on the Junior School trip the following week. Apart from the logistical headache of collecting one at 11pm one night and dropping the other off at 3am four hours later, the fact that our normal family of five will be four for two weeks is a rather curious feeling.
As a parent, it is only natural to worry about your offspring – will they be homesick? Will they eat enough? Did I pack enough socks/snacks/sun cream (delete as applicable!). What if they’re ill? But as a parent and a teacher with experience of many school trips, perhaps my level of anxiety is less, simply because I know what goes on behind the scenes before, during and after any school day trip or residential.
In my professional career, I have undertaken many duties on trips which can be part and parcel of the job: dried up tears, mediated in teenage squabbles, cleared up sick, accompanied injured students down a mountain in an ambulance, acted out concussion in the A&E department of an Italian hospital, effectively bribed a child to carry on walking in the Lake District using chocolate raisins and even re-dressed an infected in-growing toenail on a daily basis! Perhaps the person who said “never work with animals and children!” was right?
But alongside the less glamorous side to the job is the immense pride I feel when a student overcomes their fear of heights, or picks themselves up after falling over on the slopes, or makes a purchase using a foreign language or even just looks at something with new found awe and wonder. Effectively, you get the buzz of parental pride, just with someone else’s children and that is what makes me get up for work in the morning.
The concept of “in loco parentis” is not a new one. Teachers have a duty of care to pupils which derives from ‘common law’ i.e. developed through decisions of the Court as opposed to law which has been determined by Parliament and set down in statute. Traditionally, the term “in loco parentis” was used to describe the duty of care that a teacher has towards a pupil, to the effect that a teacher has a duty to take the same reasonable care of the pupil that a parent would take in those circumstances.
“In loco parentis” originally embodied the nineteenth century common law principle that a teacher’s authority was delegated by a parent so far as it was necessary for the welfare of the child. A court held, in 1893, that “the schoolmaster is bound to take such care of his pupils as a careful father would”. During the 1950s and 1960s, case law was developed further by the courts. In 1955, it was held that “a balance must be struck between the meticulous supervision of children every moment of the day and the desirable object of encouraging sturdy independence as they grow up”. Teachers’ professionalism was recognised by the courts in 1962, where the “standard of care expected of a teacher was held to be that of a person exhibiting the responsible mental qualities of a prudent parent in the circumstances of school, rather than home life”.
The current standard of care expected of a teacher is that of a reasonable person in the circumstances of a class teacher. It has been recognised that a teacher’s duty of care to individual pupils is influenced by, for example, the subject or activity being taught, the age of the children, the available resources and the size of the class. Furthermore, it is clear from case law that the standard of care expected is the application of the ordinary skills of a competent professional, the skill and care of a reasonable teacher. If it can be shown that a professional acted in accordance with the views of a reputable body of opinion within their profession, the duty of care will have been satisfied, even though others may disagree.
So as teachers, it is our duty to assess the risks, plan for many eventualities (including those curve balls that life sometimes throws), oversee the many and varied activities that our students participate in, rejoice in their successes, commiserate when things don’t go according to plan and bring them home to their parents full of stories of new experiences and with a little more independence and resilience. It’s not that dissimilar to part of the role of being a parent.
So as the departure dates approach for my own daughters, I will endeavour not to show that I am anxious, I will revel in their excitement and intrepidation. I will hug them a little tighter and wave them off on their travels. While they are away I will sleep a little lighter but ultimately I am safe in the knowledge that they are in the best hands as they broaden their horizons beyond the confines of the classrooms at Northampton High.
Imogen Tansley, Subject Leader Economics and Business