School trips - Just why the law is an ass

The government has today launched an initiative to encourage more schools to run and organised school trips. This is in response to falling numbers of trips due to school and teachers fearing being sued in the event of an accident.

What the government does not realise, however, is the ludicrous situation the law puts schools in and why it is hard for some schools to contemplate running trips.

Firstly, if the trip is part of the curriculum, schools are expected to only ask for a voluntary contribution from parents. This means that if nobody wanted to pay for their child's trip, the school will be lumbered with the full cost. This is ridiculous. It is intened to help those pupils from poorer backgrounds, but in my experience at previous schools this has usually been exploited by some very comfortably off parents who take the p*ss by simply refusing to pay.

Then there is the "what if there is an accident" problem. Take a friend of mine, working in a school (not mine, I should clearly state and not locally). An accident took place on a trip, the teacher had warned the children about the risks of a particular thing, it had been written up in the risk assessment and the teacher was shown, by the Education Authority to have done everything 100% correctly. So what happened when the child ran in to a coned off area, fell, got a broken arm ? The parents sued and the education authority paid up. On what basis did they pay ? The solicitors advised "That you cannot expect a child to follow instructions"

This is a ridiculous state of affairs. A teacher can follow every precaution, dot every "i" and cross every "t", but beacuse the legal advice is that a child cannot be expected to follow safety rules, the school is at fault.

The school I teach at isn't scared to run trips, and they do benefit the children enormously, but I can fully understand why some school are very reluctant to run trips.


Anonymous said...

It's quite interesting, this area of the law. But I'm afraid the current legal position is nothing new. There is a long standing 'duty of care' owed by parents and teachers etc to children. If a child's minders breach this duty negligently, then they are legally liable. Cases go back to the 1930s on this.

The duty of care is even owed to third parties. There's a leading case from the House of Lords in 1955 called Carmarthenshire County Council v Lewis, where a boy strayed onto a main road after being left unattended at a nursery. A lorry driver swerved to avoid him and crashed into a lamp post, later dying of his injuries.

The House of Lords held that the nursery was liable for the child's actions. In essence, they said that the nursery/school is liable, in this sort of situation, for anything that happens which is 'foreseeable'. Quite a wide range of possibilities then!

So I don't think it's the law that's changed in the last few years and left teachers worried about school trips etc. It's really down to the increased access to the courts and no win, no fee arrangements with solicitors. It's fairly ironic that the government have been issuing guidance today saying that it's safe for teachers to take kids out on school trips, as they encouraged the no win no fee arrangements in the Access to Justice Act 1999.

Then again, you might ask whether the situation before the act, when only the rich could afford to sue, would be preferable. It has to be one or the other, especially as legislating to exclude this sort of situation from negligence suits would be very difficult.

Norfolk Blogger said...

Really interesting stuff. I am no legal expert (I guess that came as no surprise), so your comments are useful.

James Higham said...

The risk is just too high now, Nich. The law truly is crazy but even crazier and yet understandable, is the new culture of fear.