Compensation payouts cost schools £7m over three years

CREDIT: This story was first seen on the BBC

Pupil mishaps including a blindfolded child running into a goalpost and pupil hit by a cricket ball have cost schools £7m in three years, it has emerged

Figures obtained by the BBC reveal an apparent doubling in school payouts from £1.65m in 2014 to £3.45m in 2016.

However, these figures are skewed by a single payout in 2016 following a near drowning of an Essex child.

The Campaign for Real Education says some teachers are now “terrified” of being sued.

The responses from more than 50 local education authorities reveal accidents involving everything from belt sanders, to children tripping over coats to a teacher accidentally spilling boiling water over a pupil.

The total sum paid out – which does not include free schools or academies, which manage their own insurance, or four education authorities which refused to answer the information request – was £7.25m over three years, enough to fund the annual salaries of more than 320 newly qualified teachers for a year.

The biggest single compensation payout in the last three years was made by Essex County Council to Annie Woodland who almost drowned during a school swimming lesson in Basildon in 2000.

Miss Woodland, who now lives in the Blackpool area with her partner Sam Hill and their son, Joey, continues to suffer memory problems, fatigue and poor balance and is unable to work.

Her lawyer Jennifer Maloney, of Slater and Gordon, said far from “representing a lottery win”, the £1.9m compensation payout (the county council paid two thirds of this amount) would be used towards Miss Woodland’s life-long care needs.

She said the family’s 16 year legal battle began when her parents dropped off their 10-year-old daughter expecting her to be properly looked after.

“But they got a phone call in the afternoon to say she was critically ill in hospital,” said Ms Maloney. “This was then compounded by years of litigation and set backs to try and get some justice for Annie.

“They were concerned parents who wanted to get answers as to how their child, who had been perfectly healthy, came to be so badly injured.”

Local authority compensation payouts include:

  • £20,000 paid after a child was struck on the head by a cricket ball in Northamptonshire
  • £35,000 paid after a number of children injured when a heating duct fell from the ceiling in the school hall in Kent
  • £2,475 paid in the case of a child who “collided with a post while blindfolded” in Nottinghamshire
  • £11,500 after a pupil in Norfolk fell off tables
  • £11,500 paid after a trampoline accident in Central Bedfordshire
  • £6,600 paid after a Calderdale pupil injured in a vaulting horse accident
  • £15,150 paid after Norfolk pupil injured by a whiteboard
  • Wandsworth paid out £12,220 after a teacher spilt a cup of boiling water over a pupil in class
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Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education and a former head teacher, claimed schools were being advised “to avoid any possibility of risk creeping into the lives of pupils”.

“Once you allow the fear of a possible accident to happen, then the atmosphere and culture of the school changes fairly dramatically,” he said.

“There’s always going to be the one in 1,000 chance of a pot, a book or a bookcase falling down.

“These things of course need to be attended to. But the price we pay for placing those constraints on children is that they themselves are losing their childhood, living in anxiety and fear, and teachers fear doing certain things in case of an accident.”

McGovern, a former Downing Street adviser who taught for 35 years, added that some teachers were so “fed up” with paperwork they did not take children on school trips.

“You have a situation now where children are wrapped in cotton wool,” he said, “and teachers are terrified of taking them out of the cotton wool and into the real world because they might be sued.”

The figures also reveal a growing number of compensation payouts for historical sexual abuse.

Of the £161,691 paid out by Kent County Council in 2016, for example, just under half – £70,000 – related to abuse suffered by two people in the county’s schools during the 1970s.

Ms Maloney said her own firm now had a “dedicated abuse team”, which in itself represented a change in recent years.

“It is a response to demand,” she said.

The Department for Education (DfE) said safety in schools was monitored on its behalf by Ofsted.

“They are responsible for regulating settings and take into account safeguarding matters during inspection,” a spokesman for the DfE said.

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