Teachers will have to review how they contract out lessons such as swimming if a landmark judgment this week finds a school liable for injuries suffered by students as a result of the negligence of independent contractors.
On Wednesday, five Supreme Court justices will deliver their verdict in the case of a woman who suffered severe brain damage when she nearly drowned during a swimming lesson at a pool run by Essex council .
Annie Woodland was injured in July 2000 when she was a 10-year-old pupil at Whitmore Primary School in Basildon, run by Essex County Council. A Supreme Court hearing in July heard the school had contracted with a commercial organization to provide swimming lessons, but not all teachers present had insurance.
Woodland’s lawyers believe the school owed it a duty of care covering all day-to-day operations, which applied even when third parties were engaged to provide instruction. They argued that because swimming lessons were part of the national curriculum and took place during the school day, the school should have had responsibility for the child’s welfare, which it could not delegate.
The High Court and Court of Appeal have already ruled in favor of the County Council and on behalf of the school, which had insisted it be allowed to contract swimming and therefore could not be held liable.
Catherine Leech, a partner at Pannone Solicitors, which acts for Woodland, said a ruling against her client would alarm parents, who expect teachers to be responsible for their child throughout the day. “Unless our appeal is successful, schools in England and Wales will be allowed to contract out their duty to pupils during the school day, without being responsible for the safety of their pupils during lessons or activities. outsourced,” Leech said.
She said the judgment would be considered by both parents and education authorities: “It promises to clarify whether schools can abrogate their responsibilities…as well as underlining the duty of care parents can expect.” She said Woodland’s future had been “dramatically” changed by the negligent actions of others and her parents, Ian and Alison, had been devastated. “They’re very anxious that other parents won’t have to go through what they went through,” Leech said. “They gave the school custody of their daughter and they think the school has let them all down.”