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Parents who send their children to private school are entitled to expect that they will receive a reasonable standard of education – and, at the very least, that the school concerned has lawful authority to teach them. In a rare case on point, a couple and their teenage son who, in both those respects, were badly let down received substantial compensation.
The boy was just short of his 15th birthday when his parents moved him to a well-regarded private school to study for his GCSEs. The school was, however, at that time only authorised by the Department for Education to educate pupils up to the age of 14. After the position was made clear to them by an Ofsted inspector, the couple removed their son from the school at the end of his first year there.
The couple launched proceedings against the school's proprietor and headteacher on the basis that they had placed their son at the school in reliance on a false representation. They also alleged that the school had been negligent in failing to provide their son with an adequate standard of education and that his academic achievement had suffered as a result.
In upholding their claims, the High Court found that it had been falsely represented to them that their son could be educated up to GCSE level at the school. On that basis, they reasonably assumed that the school had permission to teach a boy of his age. They were deliberately deceived in that respect and, had they known the truth, would not have sent him to the school.
In also upholding the couple's negligent education claim, the Court found that the school was not prepared generally to teach a GCSE programme when their son joined the pupil body. There were shortcomings in the school's facilities and in the teaching resources required to supervise his learning.
The Court noted that there was no criticism of the school's education of younger pupils and that some parents and children regarded the headteacher and the school as having served them well. It was, however, reasonably foreseeable that the breaches of duty found proved would result in the boy suffering a loss of educational achievement.
The boy's parents were each awarded £2,000 in compensation, and the boy £5,000, to reflect the distress they endured as a result of the false representation. In the event, he had not attained six GCSEs, had been unable to take his A Levels and was not going to university. That significant failure in educational achievement, the Court ruled, merited a further award of £20,000.