As the education sector in Australia continues to evolve, the demand for reliable and effective insurance has become increasingly important. From primary and secondary schools to universities and vocational training, including care facilities, both public and private educational institutions face a variety of unique risks and challenges surrounding the education and welfare of its students and staff that require specialised legal expertise.

With years of experience servicing clients in the education sector, we have built a strong reputation for our capacity to provide comprehensive and tailored solutions that meet the evolving needs of this complex industry. Our experts have the market specific knowledge and specialist expertise to deliver commercially focused advice when responding to the expanse of claims arising from the Australian education industry, with the aim of delivering best possible commercial and reputational outcomes for our clients.

General Liability

Our General Liability team understand the pressures and constraints under which government agencies, statutory authorities and educational providers operate. Complex problems are at hand – and the solutions need to effectively engage stakeholders and the public to ensure defendable decisions. We have expertise in handling the full spectrum of claims that arise from the education sector, across both public and private institutions.

Workplace

Our Workplace team have vast experience in the education sector. This includes litigated employment disputes, contract advice and responding to claims of discrimination brought by employees and students. We have particular expertise in providing advice and representation to our clients in the education sector involving allegations of sexual harassment and have provided critical advice on the new Respect@Work legislative regime. We have also provided strategic Industrial Relations advice and representation including industrial disputes and enterprise bargaining.

Cyber, Privacy and Data Security

With hands-on experience guiding educational institutions through cyber incidents, including breaches of sensitive data and email hacking, our Cyber team offers expertise tailored to the sectors unique landscape. We’ve successfully navigated education sector clients including private schools and higher education institutions through ransomware attacks and unauthorised access breaches, prioritising reputation safeguarding.

Our approach ensures regulatory compliance and effective risk mitigation, delivering tailored solutions to protect your institution’s interests. Our market-leading team handles hundreds of claims, offering comprehensive advice on privacy, data protection, and cyber forensics, streamlining the breach response process while reducing legal exposures.

In the event of a breach, our dedicated 24/7 hotline manned by breach response lawyers ensures swift response and protection under legal professional privilege. We coordinate with vendors, provide global support, and offer specialised services tailored to the education sector, ensuring your institution is prepared and protected against cyber threats.

Wotton + Kearney have education experts specialising in:

  • Abuse and bullying claims
  • Discrimination
  • Employment Law
  • Personal Injury
  • Policy coverage
  • Property damage
  • SafeWork investigations

Recent work

Personal injury claims

Advising and acting for numerous schools and childcare facilities in response to claims made by students and invitees for personal injuries occurring on school premises and childcare premises.

Advising and acting for numerous schools in response to claims made by students for personal injuries occurring during school activities and excursions offsite.

Advising and acting for a Higher Education provider in defence a claim for personal injury including psychiatric injury. The claim involved complex considerations of overlapping and differentiated duties as towards employees and students.

Sensitive claims

Advising and acting for schools in response to claims made by students arising from abuse (psychological, physical and/or sexual) by staff members or other students.

Claims made by students arising from bullying, physical assaults and/or sexual assaults require particular sensitivity and understanding of potential discrimination implications where it is alleged the injury was caused by a student with disability.

Complaints of discrimination by students

Acting and advising Government and private schools in response to discrimination complaints made by students based on disability, race and/or gender.

In relation to complaints of discrimination based on disability, we often reach a successful outcome by negotiating reasonable adjustments to the satisfaction of both parties so that the student has continued access to education.

Acting for an Australian University in defence of a claim of discrimination, alleging discriminatory practices against a former student and arising from a decision to exclude the claimant from further study.  The claim was successfully defended, and judgment entered in favour of the University.

Property damage claims

Responding to claims made against schools for property damage.

Pursuing claims on behalf of schools against third parties for damage incurred to the property.

SafeWork investigations

Advising and acting for schools in SafeWork investigations following major incidents, including assisting in communicating with SafeWork, attending for interviews and preparing responses to SafeWork requests for information.

Unfair dismissal claims

Advising and acting for schools in the defence of unfair dismissal claims in the Fair Work Commission. Most matters settled on favourable terms with proceedings withdrawn.

Disciplinary proceedings

Advising and acting for an early childhood education and care, and out of school hours care, provider in the defence of disciplinary proceedings commenced by the regulator following a notifiable incident, including assisting in the preparation of responses and corresponding with the regulator to reach agreement on fines, agreed facts and consent orders to be entered.

Breach of copyright claim

W+K provided coverage advice to insurers in relation to a breach of copyright claim that arose from an alleged misuse of education quality survey software by a higher education provider. The claim was ultimately resolved without the need for litigation by defence counsel within the deductible.

Ransomware attack

W+K were engaged to provide legal advice to a Melbourne private school in relation to a ransomware attack suffered in 2023. We worked closely with the forensic experts engaged to advise the School on its legal obligations in relation to the incident. The School suffered a significant downtime following the incident whilst the systems were restored. An important aspect of our work was to assist drafting communications to the School board, staff, parents and students regarding the incident, with a key focus on risk and reputation management. Fortunately, there was no evidence of unauthorised access to files containing personal information of students or staff. As such, we ultimately determined the incident did not constitute an eligible data breach under the Privacy Act, so formal regulatory notification was not required.

Cyber security incident

W+K were engaged to provide legal advice to a private school in Tasmania, in relation to cyber security incident in 2021. The incident related to unauthorised access by a student to a staff account on the student portal, where sensitive information relating to other students was held. Following a forensic investigation, it was discovered the student had viewed pastoral care records of over 50 students which included health information and sensitive learning information regarding academic and behavioural issues.  We undertook a PII review of the impacted records to identity impacted individuals, following which we provided privacy advice to the Insured, advising the incident satisfied the definition of an eligible data breach under the Privacy Act. We subsequently assisted the Insured notify the OAIC and impacted students.  An important aspect of our work also included providing advice on communications throughout the incident investigation.

Data breach

W+K provided coverage advice to insurers in relation to a data breach of a tertiary education provider involving significant amounts of sensitive personal information. The circumstances of the breach were highly confidential and W+K assisted in establishing information sharing protocols to suit the insured’s comfort levels. The policy claim was ultimately settled commercially.

Data breach and privacy

W+K provided incident response services to an Australian University in relation to an email incident resulting from human error, which involved email recipients being inadvertently cc’d instead of bcc’d. The email was sent to vulnerable individuals who were receiving services from a University research centre. In our role as incident response manager, we provided advice and guidance to the Insured on next steps, including a consideration of the mandatory data breach scheme under the NSW State Privacy Legislation which recently became mandatory in November 2023, which now aligns closely with the Federal notification scheme.

Education Key Contacts

Belinda Henningham
Partner
Sydney

Meisha Tjiong
Partner
Sydney

Stan Tsaridis
Partner
Sydney

Kieran Doyle
Partner
Sydney

Nicole Gabryk
Partner
Sydney

Sian Gilbert
Partner
Sydney

Nick Martin
Special Counsel
Sydney