Success for a local authority in a case determining what counts as an acceptable risk

Langleys acted for a local authority in a claim brought on behalf of a minor. The four-year-old had been in a primary school nursery class, being pushed on a rocking horse by two other children. He fell and sustained a greenstick fracture to his collarbone and a bump to his head.

The court accepted that the injuries were consistent with such a fall. It next considered whether the teachers failed to supervise the boy while playing, and if they had breached their duty of care.

In this nursery class there were three teachers and 26 children. Guidelines require one adult for every 13 children. One of the teachers and a third of the children were outdoors, leaving two staff supervising 18 or 19 pupils.

It was claimed that the fact that neither teacher saw the accident happen was evidence of inadequate supervision. The defendant, however, said the children were constantly moving; they said they provided general supervision, which was adequate. The childen liked the rocking horse, which was important for physical development and building confidence. There had been no previous accidents.

The court said the rocking horse was a classic piece of equipment that one would expect to see in a nursery class. It considered the difficulties faced by teachers; it also said that children need to be, in a safe way, exposed to normal risks. The teachers were not static and neither were the children. It was not possible to give one-to-one supervision, and the teachers were constantly scanning the room, which was compact.

The court found that it would be a “policy of perfection” to expect teachers to monitor every child at all times. This was an accident for which no blame could attach to the school. There was experienced supervision and sometimes

things happen that are beyond prevention. On that basis, the authority successfully defended this claim, which was dismissed by the court.

The decision is a welcome one for insurers, and indicates that the courts are taking a more common sense approach. It is accepted that children should be exposed to some risks and that accidents can happen without schools being at fault. It remains to be seen how much risk the courts will allow.

Caroline Elson is a solicitor in the public sector unit at Langleys