We trust schools to protect and educate children. Unfortunately, some teachers and other school staff use their positions to abuse children. In this article, we explain how to claim compensation in the unfortunate event that you or a loved one have suffered abuse.

Schools play an important role in our society, not just in terms of educating children, but also in safeguarding them. School staff have regular and close contact with their pupils and are uniquely placed to provide education, support and advice to children about child protection, as well as help to spot any potential signs of child abuse or neglect. Schools are usually well-equipped to refer children to the necessary authorities where there is concern about child abuse.

The vast majority of schools and their staff can be trusted to do a vital job in supporting children and helping them to develop into successful young adults. However, there are some people who will use their close contact with children, some of whom are very vulnerable, to develop inappropriate relationships with them.

If you, your child or someone for whom you are responsible has suffered sexual, physical and/or emotional abuse at a secondary school in England or Wales, it may be possible to claim compensation. Whether the abuse has taken place recently or many years ago, Abuse Claim Line can advise you about making a claim for compensation against a former school and will handle your claim on your behalf.

Legal basis for claims against schools

In England and Wales, it is illegal to have a sexual relationship with a child or young person under the age of 16. In addition, it is a criminal offence for an adult to have a sexual relationship with a person aged 18 or under, where the adult is in a position of trust in relation to that person. As teachers are in a position of trust in relation to their students, it is against the law for a school teacher to have a sexual relationship with any of their students aged 18 or below.

However, a school does not merely consist of its teachers; there are also a number of staff at a school, including teaching assistants, administrators, welfare officers (such as school nurses) and caretakers. It is against the law for any of these people to engage in sexual activity with a young person aged 18 or under who is at the school in which they work.

Who do I claim against?

In most cases where child abuse has occurred at a school, a compensation claim can be made against the individual abuser and/or the organisation in charge of the school.

Claims against abusers

A claim can be made against the individual abuser on the basis that he or she:

  • assaulted the child;
  • intentionally inflicted harm on the child; and/or
  • subjected the child to false imprisonment (which takes places where a person limits someone’s freedom from restriction of movement without the legal right to do so).

Before making a claim directly against the abuser, it will be necessary to carry out investigations into his or her financial situation in order to identify whether he or she has sufficient assets (including money or property) to pay compensation to you. We can arrange for an investigator to carry out the necessary work and prepare a report.

In most cases, the abuser does not have the necessary assets to pay compensation and so we must look to claim compensation from the organisation in charge of the school. There are often benefits to doing this.

Claims against schools/organisations

A compensation claim can be made against the organisation in charge of the school, which is often the local authority in most cases. A claim can be made on the basis that the organisation is “vicariously liable” for the acts of its employees (including volunteers). This means that, although the school did not permit the abuse to take place, it will still be required to pay compensation to you for the negligent or abusive acts of its staff or volunteers. It is a well-established legal principle that a school is liable for the acts of a teacher or other staff member who abuses a student at the school in which the teacher or other staff member works. It is not necessary for the abuse to take place on school premises.

Because schools have a statutory duty to protect their pupils, they should have child protection policies and procedures in place to safeguard children, including designated child protection roles within the senior management team and on the school’s board of governors or trustees. They must also ensure that any staff and volunteers who work in the school do not place children at risk. This is also the case during the school’s recruitment process. Staff should also receive training on identifying signs of child abuse and how to respond to child protection concerns.

Where abuse of a student by a teacher has taken place, it is possible that the secondary school has been negligent in safeguarding the child concerned; for example, by failing to follow the correct recruitment procedure or by failing to have the correct child protection procedures in place. Again, a compensation claim can be made on the basis of negligence.

When acting against the organisation in charge of the school, we will need to carry out investigations into the school in order to understand how the school was set up and who is in control of the school. The following are the common defendants found in school abuse claims:

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    • Local education authorities

    The most common defendant in school abuse compensation claims is the local education authority (“LEA”) for the area in which the school is based. This is because most schools are controlled by, and its staff is employed by, the LEA. Schools that are “voluntary controlled” schools will also be controlled by the LEA, despite having some input from a religious organisation or trust.

    Sometimes, the LEA will have insurance cover and so, even though it remains the defendant, the insurance company will pay compensation where the claim is successful. If the LEA does not have insurance cover, a successful claim will be covered by the LEA.

    • Religious organisations

    In some cases, schools may be controlled by a religious foundation or trust. This is often the case in “voluntary-aided” schools and faith schools.

    Historically, the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have used their money and land to build schools with the idea of introducing teachings in accordance with their religious doctrine. The Church will then have a substantial influence over the operation of the school, including the selection and employment of its governors and staff.

    In these situations, the defendant in a compensation claim will depend on the diocese in which the school is based. The denomination of the school is also important because, for example, a Church of England aided (C of E aided) school in Bristol may be controlled by the Anglican Diocese of Bristol while a Roman Catholic-aided school just down the road may be controlled by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Clifton.

    Claims should be made against the head of the relevant diocese (in most cases, this will be the bishop or archbishop) or the legal body of the diocese in which the abuse took place (often, this will be the trustees of the diocese or archdiocese).

    Again, the religious organisation or diocese may have an insurance policy which covers the compensation. If it does not, compensation in a successful claim will be paid directly by the diocese, the trust or other religious body.

    • Academy trusts

    Although academy schools receive state funding, they are independent of local authority control. An academy school is controlled by an academy trust, which is a self-governing charitable trust. It is the academy trust that selects, appoints and employs staff at the school.

    Most academy schools tend to be secondary schools, but there are also a number of primary, infant and junior schools operated by academy trusts.

    Where child abuse has occurred at an academy school, the defendant in a compensation claim will be the academy trust. Well known academy trusts in England and Wales include ARK Schools, E-ACT and United Learning Trust.

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