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Reducing Your School's Liability

Behaviours of concern are now unfortunately a common feature of school life. Boards of Management and principals are increasingly forced to grapple with scenarios where students exhibit dangerous behaviours that threaten the safety of other students and staff. Our Education team looks at what happens when the teaching and learning of other students is disrupted. In addition, they highlight the importance of having a policy to deal with a related crisis.

School leaders must walk a tightrope balancing the rights of students with complex needs of pupils. They must also ensure a safe place of learning and work for the rest of the school community.

Managing behaviours of concern

The complexities associated with managing behaviours of concern have become a more increasingly prevalent challenge for schools. It could be argued that this trend somewhat coincides with the opening of multi special classes. Generally, the provision of these classes provide positive experiences for schools and students with complex needs. However, outside of special classes, there may be scenarios in which students display challenging behaviours who don’t have complex needs.

Effective crisis response strategies to mitigate potential risks and ensure the safety and well-being of students is a must for schools. The importance of having a policy and associated crisis plan is an essential starting point. Schools regularly rehearse fire drills, but do they rehearse for a crisis scenario in which the health and safety of students and staff are at risk due to behaviours of concern?

What should a crisis plan include?

We recommend that schools plan on the basis that a crisis will happen rather than it might happen. Staff should know what to do and more importantly what not to do. The plan should identify and contain the names of staff members who are best placed to de-escalate a unfolding crisis. It is necessary for a reporting/recording template that is fit for purpose to be provided for within the plan for accurate reporting of what transpired once the crisis has been resolved.

The use of physical intervention in crisis situations and its implications for staff and students should also be considered. What is the relationship between the Code of Behaviour/Health & Safety Statement and the crisis? What type of allowances do we make for students with complex needs in administering sanctions as permitted by the Code of Behaviour and Health & Safety Statement? Have we considered a Behaviours of Concern Policy as an appendix to the code of behaviour?

Your policy and what it should address

A Behaviours of Concern Policy should address the issue of:

  • The Legal Framework – what you can and cannot do!
  • Recognising what is a crisis
  • How to deal with different scenarios and conduct a risk assessment
  • Developing and implementing a robust incident reporting system
  • Which scenarios require physical intervention to include restraint

A Behaviours of Concern Policy discussed by staff, parents and approved by the board of management gives clarity and reassurance to members of the school community.

We recently polled attendees at one of our webinar on the topic of behaviours of concern. The results indicated some concerning trends:

  • 97% of school leaders want guidelines issued by the Department of Education
  • 59% are not confident in managing challenging behaviour
  • 72% do not have a Behaviours of Concern Policy
  • Disruption to other students is the biggest issue (56%), followed by injury to students (20%) and injury to staff (18%)


Schools require immediate clear guidance from the Department of Education concerning the optimal management of behaviours of concern and the supports that are available.

It is our recommendation that schools draft, agree and adopt a robust Behaviour of Concern Policy without delay. They should also ensure that training for staff is made available on the effective management and de-escalation of crisis scenarios which present a risk to the wellbeing of staff and student. It is our experience that schools which proactively plan are more successful in mitigating their risk exposure and reducing liability.

For more information on behaviours of concern, contact a member of our Education Law team.

The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.

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