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Faulkner v London Borough of Enfield and Lea Valley High School, High Court

4 December 2002
The issues

Bullying – Education – Schools

The facts

There were two Claimants, Layla and Tracey, sisters now aged 22 and 20. They claimed damages for personal injury for pain, shock, bruising to the face and body and psychological damage. They alleged an assault on the 28th February 1996 and fault on the part of the Defendants for failing to prevent the incident in the first place and make the school safe for the Claimants afterwards. There had been a series of bullying incidents prior to the February assault which were reported to staff, who warned the perpetrators about their behaviour. In particular, the Claimants alleged a failure to instigate or ensure that there was an anti-bullying policy. Layla did not attend school again after the assault, save to sit her GCSEs. She alleged she did not do as well as she otherwise would have. Tracey did not attend school for the remainder of her school career and did not resume education until Autumn 1988. She got no GCSEs.

The decision

The Defendants owed a duty of care to protect pupils from bullying and other mis-treatment by other pupils when at school. Where parents were concerned, reasonably about the continued safety of their children at school, the school owed a duty to act reasonably so as to provide information to enable them to take properly informed decisions about whether to permit the children to continue to attend the school or to withdraw them.

The response of the school by way of investigation and sanction was sufficient to discharge its duty of care.

The incident of the 28th February was not an instance of bullying. It was unconnected with any past incident. The school had in place reasonable arrangements for discipline. Whilst it did not have in place a bullying policy which complied with the requirements in the DES Circular 8/94, nonetheless the policies pursued in practice were effective to ensure a generally secure environment. The behaviour of the school after the incident was reasonable. The Principal of the school had properly involved the Education Welfare Officer and the response of the Claimants and their parents not to engage with the school or the Welfare Officer was unreasonable. Although the two sisters has undoubtedly suffered distress and depression, their condition was not caused by the school or its duty of care but by an assault from which the school could not be held liable and the family’s reaction to the school’s response to it.

Claim dismissed.

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