Kids will be kids

Posted: 20th March 2018

RCJ (3)Teachers are in loco parentis and bear a heavy responsibility to keep their pupils safe – but the law recognises that they cannot be expected to guard against every conceivable risk. The High Court made that point in a case concerning a 10-year-old schoolgirl who was badly injured in a fall whilst on her way to hockey practice.

The headmistress of the independent school for girls told her charges not to dawdle as they made their way from the changing rooms to a hockey pitch. The 10-year-old and a friend ran ahead as the headmistress, who was burdened by equipment, and a teaching assistant lagged behind. The girl fell over, suffering such a severe fracture to her elbow that she would never regain full movement of the joint. Subject to the school’s liability, her compensation was agreed at £45,000.

The girl’s lawyers argued that she had slipped backwards on a muddy grass verge that constituted a trap for the unwary. There had been no need for the girls to run and the headmistress should not have encouraged them to do so. It was submitted that such an accident should never happen in a school environment and that a finding of negligence was inevitable. The girl’s claim was, however, dismissed by a judge, who exonerated the headmistress and found, amongst other things, that the youngster had tripped forwards on a kerbstone and that running to a sports lesson was no different from participating in a cross-country run.

Whilst expressing sympathy for the girl, the Court dismissed her appeal against the judge’s ruling on the basis that it was quite proper for the caring and thoughtful headmistress to tell her pupils to get a move on. Although the girl was out of teachers’ sight when she fell, the group had been properly supervised.

The court noted that it was likely that, in schools up and down the country, children are permitted to run to sports lessons, save where their route takes them along busy roads or through otherwise unsafe environments. So long as they were careful, there was nothing inherently dangerous in children running, and to prevent them doing so on the way to sports lessons would in practice be extremely difficult.