Accidents happen, but what if they are on a school trip that you are in charge of? Jade Kent lists what you need to be aware of

School trips seem great in principle, but what if something goes wrong? How should we prepare for taking pupils off site?

As a starting point, teachers are required to do all that is reasonable to protect the health, safety and welfare of pupils. Schools and teachers also owe pupils a duty of care. The test for negligence is was there a duty of care owed (usually it is for schools to pupils), was there a breach of that duty and did the breach cause the damage?

Schools can be held responsible for their employees’ actions, and claims will often also be brought against a local authority (for maintained schools) or academy trusts. Usually there will be some insurance cover, but this should be checked.

The main point is not to worry

In one case, a sole dinner lady supervised about 300 pupils before classes began. A pupil suffered a serious eye injury when another hit him with a rock. The court found the school liable due to the level of supervision, and stated that the purpose of supervision is to deter children from taking part in dangerous activities as well as to stop dangerous activities if they do occur.

In another case, a pupil injured his thumb on a water fountain. The court described this as a “freak accident” as the fountain posed no risk if used correctly and the injury could not have been predicted.

A sixth-form student was injured during a school skiing trip when he tried to pass a slow group, lost control and skied off the edge of the piste. He had been reprimanded twice before. He was not under constant supervision as his parents had agreed that he could ski unsupervised as he was an experienced skier. The court decided that the supervisor’s response had been within the range of what a reasonable parent would do, taking into account the consent, the student’s age and skiing experience. There was therefore no breach of the duty of care on the part of the school.

Ten-year-old Annie was having swimming lessons when she suffered injuries because of a near drowning that was not spotted quickly by the swimming teacher or lifeguard. As Annie had been in the water unnoticed, requiring rescue, for more than 30 seconds this fell below the standard of care reasonably expected. The swimming teacher and the lifeguard were liable. The school in this case had a “non-delegable” duty of care towards its pupils and was liable for the negligence of the swimming teacher that it used. The factors the courts looked at included that Annie was a child, there was a relationship between Annie and the school, Annie had no control over how the school chose to perform its obligations, and the swimming teacher had been negligent in the performance of the function delegated to her by the school.

This is complex stuff and is very dependent on the particular circumstances. So what can you do to attempt to avoid accidents? Look at your school’s health and safety policy. What does it say about risk assessments (remember that they may not be needed for every activity), have staff had training to understand their responsibilities and what does the school expect from them? Do you know what to do if you need to report a risk so that remedial action can take place?

Parents should also be told about upcoming activities and given the opportunity to withdraw their child if they wish. Written parental consent is only usually needed if there is a higher level of risk for a particular activity, or the activity is outside school hours.

The main point is not to worry. School trips are fun and with the correct preparation they can be fulfilling for pupils, teachers and the whole school.

If all else falls, I have recently heard about schools with edible playgrounds and a suggestion children should learn mainly through play until the age of eight. Maybe staying in school with a bag of Lego and nipping out to eat what is grown in the playground could be a good option too!