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Rise in Claims Against Schools - what can you do to manage the risks?

on Thursday, 15 September 2016.

Independent schools are not immune from the growth of the 'consumer culture' and are seeing an increase in complaints and claims as a result.

With the introduction of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 in October 2015, which consolidated and extended consumer rights and extensive publicity about this, parents have never been so well informed and schools should expect to be held to account for the quality of their service. For the first time, parents also have statutory remedies for poor service including a right to repeat performance and/or a price reduction where applicable.

You may have read the recent Telegraph report about a Mr Craddock (57), who is reportedly suing an independent school seeking reimbursement of all school fees (£125,000) after his son David, now 17, achieved only one GCSE pass at grade C or above, despite being predicted to achieve 5 or more.

Details of his claims and complaints are not reported, and we cannot comment on the claim or the issues it raises in any detail. However this is not the first time - nor will it be the last - that a school receives a claim from a disgruntled parent.

Sometimes these follow some disappointment with their child's schooling or performance, and others a chaser for unpaid fees. Such allegations generally trigger a legal obligation to investigate and respond, whether through the school's complaints process or under the auspices of the Civil Procedure Rules. The implications of such allegations are therefore significant, in terms of staff time, professional cost and reputational risk, regardless of their merits.

What should your school be doing?

This case serves as a timely reminder of this and of the need to communicate with parents about their child's educational progress and predicted grades, and to raise concerns early so that expectations can be managed.

However, even exceptional governance and operational standards cannot eliminate the risk of claims and when a dispute does arise, schools should balance their regulatory and contractual duties with an effective dispute resolution strategy to avoid unnecessary escalation.

We would also encourage schools to review their insurance arrangements to ensure that they have appropriate cover in the event of a claim, as legal costs often far exceed the value of the dispute in question.

For information and advice about any of the issues raised in this article please contact James Garside in our Independent Schools team on 0117 314 5381.

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