With a recent newspaper headline highlighting that a teaching assistant in Blackpool slipped on a jigsaw piece and cost education bosses nearly £40,000 in compensation and legal costs, it seems that yet again, personal injury lawyers are in the firing line.
We are told that the compensation culture is alive and well and out of control in schools and that it is taxpayers who end up footing the bill when the money could otherwise be spent on education.
Children should not be wrapped in cotton wool – they should be allowed to play and learn but the schools must deliver a safe environment in which this can happen.
Play is an essential part of learning and children will fall and they will hurt themselves.
Activities such as playing conkers, throwing snowballs, tag and marbles have been an integral part of school life for years but many of these activities have been banned in one school or another. School trips are also becoming a distant memory in some schools.
I think that a large part of the problem is the oppressive health & safety culture that surrounds schools. Personal injury lawyers are portrayed as “bogeymen” who will appear whenever a child or staff member is injured and that consequently any activity which involves an element of risk must be banned.
Over protected children are more likely to have accidents in later life since they will not have learnt how to assess and manage risk and they also lose the chance to have fun playing the sorts of games many of us played when we were at school.
Almost all activities involve some risk and what is needed is the re-introduction of common sense. The type of common sense parents are very good at applying at home when involving their children in activities.
What we should expect when we drop our children off at the school gates is that the school will exercise the same level of responsibility as we would do in our own homes. Fears of litigation and an overzealous interpretation of health and safety rules should not stop our children from learning and socialising through play.
I don’t pretend that there are no frivolous claims but when these are pursued, the school and their insurers should be more robust in their defence because the law protects those who have taken reasonable steps to minimise the risks associated with a particular activity and I have confidence that under our court system these claims would fail
Here at Hilary Meredith Solicitors we will only pursue claims against schools where we are completely satisfied that the school has breached its duty to keep children in its care reasonably safe.
If schools follow recognised health and safety guidelines, take reasonable care and provide appropriate supervision as any parent would do then they have nothing to fear from the law.
However, if a child is injured because guidelines are ignored or supervision was not provided then of course that child deserves fair and just compensation.
There is no “either or” here. We can and should encourage children to take part in activities at school and to go on school trips without worrying about an increase in claims against schools. We just need to make sure that it is not the compensation culture or an overzealous health & safety culture that dictates our actions but a common sense culture.
Steve Ireland, Partner at Hilary Meredith Solicitors