Injury compensation claims at Norfolk and Suffolk schools top £320,000 in five years
Injury compensation payouts in Norfolk and Suffolk have cost schools more than £320,000 over the last five years.
The incidents, which include broken bones, psychiatric damage and head injuries, took place on school grounds and involved pupils, employees and members of the public.
The figures, released under a Freedom of Information Request, reveal payouts from Norfolk County Council for incidents since 2012 reached £166,000 and topped £157,000 for Suffolk County Council. But the bodies say the sums include costs of defending claims and moved to reassure parents that schools are safe - and incidents rare. The figures cover schools who, at the time of the incident, were local authority run, and not academies, which manage their own insurance.
Injuries since 2012 include loss of fingers, back damage and injury to a male's 'reproductive system'. The highest sum paid in Norfolk - where 39 claims were recorded in the five years, with 12 of those yet to be settled - was £46,000, paid to an employee who suffered a back injury in 2013 from manual handling.
Of the 20 in Suffolk, the highest was for £38,026, after a school employee in the west of the county suffered broken/chipped bones during an accident on site.
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Abigail Trencher, partner and head of education at East Anglian law firm Birketts, said: 'Personal injury claims against schools are far from uncommon and schools are under considerable pressure to ensure they provide a safe environment for pupils, in terms of safeguarding their physical and mental wellbeing. It is often a difficult balance to strike to ensure the security of pupils while avoiding schools becoming fortresses, as the courts have acknowledged.'
Payouts in Suffolk for incidents in the previous five years - 2007 to 2012 - included £125,831 for an employee who suffered strains/sprains on a school playing field, and another paid £103,738 after breaking/chipping bones after slipping in a kitchen.
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A Suffolk County Council spokesperson said: 'Our schools are safe and incidents leading to compensation payouts at our schools in Suffolk are rare. Not all the occurrences detailed in the FOI response were successful claims and some account for the costs of defending a claim.'
A spokesperson from Norfolk County Council said health and safety was taken seriously at schools, with 'robust management systems in place' and regular monitoring of schools. They said there were 51,941 students in roll in May.
They said: 'All claims are fully investigated and where a breach has occurred and compensation paid the school is notified and recommendations made to prevent further similar events occurring.'
What were some of the claims?
Of the claims in both counties, 23 were made by employees and 36 by members of the public and pupils.
In Suffolk, one pupil was paid £13,096 in 2013 after staff failed to attend an injury, while another person in Norfolk was paid £4,250 after a lack of supervision saw them suffer scarring on their face in 2012.
Two people, likely to be either pupils or members of the public, were paid £12,000 and £15,000 respectively in 2012 after suffering abuse. Both ended up with psychiatric damage, one severe and the other 'moderately severe'.
One male's reproductive system was injured thanks to a lack of supervision in 2012 in Norfolk, which saw them paid £10,000, and another lost a part of their little finger because of the same reason. They were paid £3,500 in 2012.
Another person in Norfolk was paid £4,950 in 2016 after they lost their ring finger due to a lack of supervision.
Abuse of employees
The claims included a handful made by employees who suffered abuse at school.
In 2012, one lodged a compensation claim when they suffered a knee injury after being abused on school grounds in Norfolk. They were later paid £4,000.
One year later, another employee at a school in Suffolk was paid £22,283 after being assaulted by a pupil.
Though incidents which happened earlier than 2012 have not been taken into account in calculating total sums paid out, some information was provided by councils.
In 2008, an employee was assaulted by a pupil while they were 'in transport', and was paid £38,582, while a teacher was paid £2,748 after an assault in 2010 in Suffolk.
Scott Lyons, joint secretary of the Norfolk NUT, said cases of physical abuse in the classroom did happen, but were thankfully not very common in the region. He said, instead, it was instances of online abuse and social media that were becoming more frequent.
But he said there could be an impact for teachers from outside the UK amid tensions around Brexit.