Zenith Personal Injury Current Awareness

Can you run in school? – The duty of care owed to school children after Pook v Rossall

18 April 2018

Jonathan Holsgrove

The shouts from teachers of ‘don’t run’, ‘slow down’ and ‘keep to the left’ echo around the corridors of schools up and down the country.  Whilst chalk boards have given way to SMART boards these commands have stood the test of time but are they still applicable today? What standards are expected of schools to protect students especially in the giddy excitement of a PE lesson?  The High Court appeal in Pook v Rossall School [2018] All ER (D) 113 (Mar) considers the issue.

The Appellant was a pupil of the Defendant school.  After getting changed she and other pupils ran from the changing rooms to the hockey fields for their PE lesson.  The route from the changing rooms was along a footpath.  The Appellant, no doubt keen to be first to the field, deviated from the path across a muddy patch of grass.  As she did so she fell sustaining a severe injury to her elbow.  At trial, the Appellant’s case was that the Defendant had failed to protect the Appellant because she was out of sight of the teachers and had been encouraged to run.  The main factual dispute was if the Appellant had slipped on the mud or tripped on the kerb.  The claim was dismissed.  The judge held that the Defendant had not been negligent in allowing pupils to run.  Further, the Appellant had tripped on the kerb rather than slipping on mud and her case failed on causation as pleaded.

On appeal, Mr. Justice Spencer QC noted the enhanced duty which schools owe to those in their care and that this is beyond that owed by parents at home.  However, this did not go to reducing the risk to the lowest level reasonably practicable.  There existed in schools some situations where no reasonable school would allow pupils to run and there are other situations where a reasonable school would allow them to run.  A measure of discretion is needed and provided to teachers who were best placed to know the school, the environment and the pupils in their care.  In those circumstances the Court should be slow to substitute its own judgment.   On the evidence, the judge at first instance had been entitled to conclude that there had not been any negligence by the school in allowing children to run to sports lessons.  The teacher in this case was experienced, knew the children and had made a proper assessment of the risks.  The appeal was dismissed.

This is a common sense decision and is useful for schools under the constant gaze of litigation.  Risk assessments are necessary but they are not there to reduce the risk to the lowest possible level.  It is a matter for the institution to properly assess the risk of each situation given their own knowledge.

For further information please contact the Clerk of Jonathan HolsgrovePaul McNab.

Current Awareness

By the Personal Injury team