Legal

How compensation claims work in this increasingly risky profession

Staffing shortages and straitened budgets are already leading to an increase in compensation claims, explains Ben Pepper

Staffing shortages and straitened budgets are already leading to an increase in compensation claims, explains Ben Pepper

29 May 2023, 5:00

NASUWT recently revealed that of the £15 million in compensation it had secured for its members for a variety of issues including discrimination, bullying and contractual disputes, 10 per cent of this total related directly to compensation paid out for assaults.

One particular case has attracted the media’s attention recently after a teacher was attacked by a pupil and was left with a brain injury, partial loss of sight and hearing, and bladder and kidney damage. The teacher was awarded £850,000 in compensation.

This problem certainly seems to be growing. In 2021, for example, NASUWT announced it had secured £340,000 in compensation for members over the year following assaults. A YouGov survey last year stated that one in seven secondary school teachers reported facing violence from pupils at least once a month.

It’s a sad fact that being a teacher and working in education more broadly appears to be an increasingly risky profession. However, there are legal protections in place and teachers should consider legal action if they have been the victim of any act of aggression or violence – especially if it goes on to impact how they do their job day-to-day.

If a teacher is assaulted by a pupil, they will be able to bring a claim against the local authority or governing body where it can be established that the teacher was owed a duty of care, that the duty was breached and that the breach caused the harm suffered. In Violence at work: a guide for employers, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines workplace violence as ‘any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work’.

An injured teacher might allege that the local authority or governing body failed to assess the risk that the pupil might become violent and then devise a handling plan for the pupil. They could also claim that training in relation to the pupil’s needs was inadequate, or that the pupil failed to have the one-on-one support which was required.

It is really important that every incident is reported and recorded

If a claim against the local authority or governing body cannot be established due to there being no breach of duty, the teacher could look to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) for damages. The CICA is a government agency, which provides compensation for victims of violent crime.

As with all personal injury claims, each case will turn on its own facts. The experience of the individual teacher and the history of the child in question will be taken into consideration. If it can be established that the local authority or governing body were responsible for the assault occurring, the teacher would also need to demonstrate the extent of their injuries and losses. The severity of the injury will dictate the level of damages awarded, as will the level of financial losses suffered. Such financial losses might include loss of earnings, as well as care, treatment, medication and travel expenses, all of which will need to be demonstrated with evidence.

It is worth noting that personal injury claims must be issued at court within three years of the date of the incident. The time limit for CICA claims is shorter – within two years of the incident.

Despite these strict deadlines, it can take much longer for personal injury claims to come to fruition. So it’s likely we’re still seeing cases in the courts which occurred pre-pandemic. While remote teaching will have prevented some assaults from occurring, we should expect to see a further rise in cases which occurred following the re-opening of schools and the impact this had on pupil behaviour, coupled with stretched resources and shrinking staff numbers.

It is really important that teachers who have been assaulted by pupils ensure that the incident is reported and recorded. If they wish to seek compensation for their injuries and losses, they should seek expert legal advice.

Stretched budgets and staffing shortages coupled with increased student need are likely to put more teachers at risk. Eventually, policy makers will need to reassess the savings of not investing in the sector as the cost of not doing so continues to grow.

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One comment

  1. Brendan MacLean

    I have worked in schools as a Teaching Assistant for nearly three decades. Most of that time was spent in special schools where I was assaulted pretty much on a daily basis. Training was ok but you cannot really train for the unforeseen and so it is not always useful. I now work in mainstream where violence is less of an issue but managing behaviour is constant.

    One of the main issues is that those responsible for determining the conditions in which we work and the way we deal with behaviour rarely know much about the job. Whilst their intentions may be good, their practical understanding is severely limited and therefore their decisions are often unworkable.

    I remember one assault where I was scratched deeply by a child who had faeces and menstrual blood beneath their fingernails. I sought medical advice and was told I needed a course of injections to counter the risk of hepatitis. I was told I would be charged for this. I asked my employer if they would cover this cost and they refused. Ultimately I approached the CEO and threatened personal legal action should I fall ill. Miraculously, policies were changed and there is now a procedure in place to cover those sorts of risky injuries.

    What struck me when I was navigating the various departments in order to establish that someone had to take responsibility, was the utter ignorance. Nobody could quite believe that the aforementioned injury was possible, let alone common.

    It is time those that work within schools, on the front line if you will, are involved in the decision making processes that define working conditions. It is no longer acceptable for those with no experience and a high degree of ignorance to have any real influence. Their contribution to date has proved to be lacking in the extreme.