School injury claims bill is over £800,000 in five years
- 20 August 2013
- From the section Wales
Over £800,000 in compensation has been paid out after children were involved in accidents at schools in Wales over the last five years, figures reveal.
Payouts include £10,500 for a pupil "playfully pushed" into a window and £1,000 for hot food splashing a child.
Claims were also made for a child running into goal posts and the incorrect application of first aid.
The Conservatives' shadow education minister Angela Burns said the compensation culture should be stopped.
She said that although some claims were genuine, they were being trivialised by the amount of "ridiculous" claims prompted by a desire to make money.
The figures, released to BBC Wales by Welsh councils after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, show that 312 claims were successful against schools, resulting in payouts of over £802,000 between 2008/09 and 2012/13.
Newport paid out the most in compensation at £248,131 for 44 cases, followed by Rhondda Cynon Taf at £189,934 for 10 cases, Cardiff at £100,117 for 74 claims and Flintshire at nearly £80,000 for 10 cases brought.
Neath Port Talbot provided no information.
Mrs Burns said it was time to look at the whole system around compensation claims, particularly at the lawyers offering "no win no fee" deals to encourage people to take legal action following accidents.
"We have to stop it. Sometimes things do happen, accidents do happen," she said.
"There's an awful lot of ridiculous stuff going on. Don't we want our children to grow up to be healthy and enjoy being outdoors?
"It's about balance and common sense."
However solicitor Peter Maynard of Newport-based fwdlaw Associates dismissed the idea of a compensation culture, a view he said was backed by Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson - head of civil justice in England and Wales - in a lecture in March.
Mr Maynard said: "If you or someone you love was maimed or injured as a result of someone else's stupidity or recklessness, do you not think they should be able to recover a reasonable sum in compensation?
"That is all I believe they should be entitled to, nothing more, nothing less. Instead, it is implied that spurious or exaggerated claims are resulting in pots of money being handed out willy-nilly."
Education experts said they believed the situation had got worse in the last 10 years, with some teachers now afraid to take children on school trips, to treat pupils with first aid and even build snowmen.
Amanda Thomas, a lecturer in early years education at the University of South Wales, said: "I know of teachers who have stopped taking children on school trips.
"When I did teacher training, health and safety didn't really factor. Now it's gone to the other extreme. With my teaching students we run a simulated school trip and the amount of forms they have to fill in is ridiculous.
"Some schools have also banned children from playing conkers and from doing handstands against the wall in the school playground.
"Other schools do not let teachers put suntan lotion on children and some of our students - particularly the men - who go on placements to schools are told not to sit a child on their lap after they are injured in case of complaints.
"I even know of a teacher who was told she should stop building snowmen with her class after one of the parents complained that her child had been wet and cold."
Ms Thomas, who taught nursery and reception classes for 10 years before going into lecturing, added: "It's mad because in Wales we're teaching the Foundation Phase in schools now, which is all about learning through doing and teaching outside in any weather.
"But then teachers are having to do that against a background of compensation claims."
Owen Hathway, Wales policy officer for the teaching union NUT Cymru, said he believed the fear of being sued was often at the back of head teachers' minds.
"You only have to look at the reaction of schools on snow days," he said.
"Head teachers often take the decision to close schools as there is the potential for compensation claims if a child slips or falls."
But he said he also believed councils should be investing in schools in a bid to stop accidents.
"Are councils investing in making schools fit for purpose?" he added.
"If you have dilapidated buildings, that is going to put children at risk of accidents."