Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Compensation for bullying

The recent out of court settlement of £20,000 paid by Torfaen County Borough Council to a 23 year-old woman in compensation for bullying that she claimed had led to depression and attempted suicide must have sent shivers down many people's spines.

Members should be reassured that there still has been little sign of a series of successful court cases. In this instance, the council's insurers refused to continue the case and settled out of court. Whether or not the evidence would have been sufficient to prove liability or damage on the scale suggested by the award was never tested.

Nevertheless, it does show that bullying must be taken very seriously. Apart from the moral obligation to do the best for a child and the danger to a school's reputation, the danger from litigation is clearly increasing.

Proper policies, fully applied, are an essential part of a defense against litigation. The test that a court is likely to apply is whether the school took the issue seriously; whether the actions it took were effective and, if not, had the school deployed all the resources at its disposal to support the child and defeat the bullies.

If a bullied child is driven out of a school and the perpetrators of the bullying are allowed to remain, it may be difficult to convince a court that the school did not act negligently.

This case also makes it clear that it is important to retain records which demonstrate the actions that the school did take.

While keeping records for an excessive amount of time is dubious practice under the Data Protection Act, it would be reasonable to ensure that there is a record of actions taken to protect a bullied child.

It is worth noting that the bullying in this case took place at primary school and dated back 12 years before the action was begun.

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