Education and the Law: A Cross National Analysis of an Essential Knowledge Base for Educators

Year: 2016

Author: Trimmer, Karen, Findlay, Yvonne, Dixon, Roselyn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Principals and teachers now work in increasingly uncertain and challenging environments involving complex legislative frameworks. As the roles and responsibilities of principals and teachers change to meet new demands and capabilities, especially for dealing with safety and security issues, so too does the need for a sound knowledge of emerging legal issues in schools such as the impact of court orders, competing parental rights, and issues around children with disabilities; information confidentiality, records and the internet; accident and incident risk management. It is becoming essential for educators to adapt and acquire new knowledge and skills relating to child protection and aspects of criminal law to the school management environment. Educators are being required to gain confidence and expertise in identifying possible legal problems before and as they arise based on their knowledge of various statutory, contractual and common law duties, especially the duty to take reasonable care, which underpin the educational process. They are being challenged on a daily basis to critically examine and evaluate the legal rights and obligations of various stakeholders, including students and parents, educators and administrators associated with the role of management within schools. The literature indicates that legislative structures, including the constitution, legislation and rulings and common law arising from them, have had significant impact on corporate governance of public sector agencies including schools. Similarly, studies indicate that the influence of legislative structures as a determinant in decision-making in the school environment have become an increasing concern for school principals. The move towards standards and accountability has influenced the governance of schools and the move towards distributed models of leadership has also increased the complexity of responsibilities and expectations of school leadership. The implications are significant if principals are deterred from pursuing innovative educative strategies due to potential litigation risks. These requirements on educators to be knowledgeable of legal issues are not confined to Australia. This presentation draws on the experiences of principals internationally, providing insights relating to the importance of knowledge of the law for all educators examining how higher education is responding to the challenge of meeting the needs of education leaders in both European and Australian contexts through data arising from a workshop undertaken as part of the European Association of Educational Research Conference in September 2015.