I am replying to this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe. I thank the Deputy for raising this issue as it affords me the opportunity to outline the position with regard to claims arising from an accident at school.
A school's responsibility for the safety of children arises from the general law relating to duty of care and negligence. The position is that the Education Act 1998 assigns each board of management and principal teacher responsibility for the day-to-day management of schools. The rules for national schools and the Education Act 1998 oblige teachers to take all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of pupils and to participate in supervising pupils when the pupils are on school premises, during school time or on school activities. Principals are required to organise supervision for the order and general behaviour of pupils during school hours. In particular, principals should organise and participate in the effective supervision of the pupils during breaks, lunch breaks, assembly and dismissal. Accordingly, it is the responsibility of all teachers, individually and collectively, to provide a duty of care at all times towards the pupils in the school in which they teach, including during periods of supervision.
While the Department does not issue specific guidelines on requirements for supervision of pupils of different ages, it acknowledges that the degree of supervision required of school authorities varies with the circumstances, including the age of the pupil. This duty, in the case of very young pupils, might include an obligation to ensure that such pupils do not leave the classroom without appropriate supervision.
Schools have a responsibility under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to have a safety statement in place in their schools. The statement should identify potential hazards, assess the risks to health and safety and put appropriate provision in place to safeguard the safety and health of employees and pupils. The safety statement should be reviewed on a regular basis.
At primary level, the revised constitution of boards and rules of procedure for primary boards of management requires each board of a primary school to put in place comprehensive insurance cover to safeguard the school, the board and the trustees. At second level, in the case of schools other than community or comprehensive schools, it is the responsibility of the individual school authority to put in place insurance cover. Claims arising under these policies are processed directly between boards and their insurers without recourse to the Department.
With regard to community and comprehensive schools, the State provides a general indemnity to the authorities of these schools in lieu of their taking out insurance cover against liabilities which may arise. In cases involving community and comprehensive schools and where the State or Minister is joined in a personal injuries claim by any party, the State Claims Agency is the body appointed by Government to respond to such claims.
In schools other than community or comprehensive schools, responsibility for arranging insurance cover, including the specific requirements of insurance cover against public liability, is a matter for the managerial authorities of the individual schools concerned. In this regard, each school should be satisfied that it is adequately covered by insurance against liability in respect of injury to pupils and teachers while participating in school activities including, as appropriate, any sporting events. The parents of the child in question should, therefore, address the matter of their child's accident with the school concerned.
The precise nature and terms of an individual school's insurance is a matter between the individual school and its insurers. The Deputy will also be aware that in the event of an accident in the school, the responsibility in any particular case will be determined by the particular circumstances of that case.
In addition to meeting the requirement for arranging school insurance cover, some schools also offer parents the option of availing of personal insurance policies which are paid for by parents. Such policies are fundamentally different from the school's insurance policy as in general these personal insurance policies are not liability based and result in payment irrespective of liability.
With regard to the specific issue of the provision of dental support services, the Department does not have responsibility for the provision of dental support services and I am not, therefore, in a position to comment on the matter of availability of dental treatment as raised by the Deputy. This matter is more appropriate to my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children.
Once again, I thank the Deputy for providing me with the opportunity to address the House and to outline the position on the responsibilities of schools in regard to the putting in place of appropriate school insurance arrangements.