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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

Health and safety in schools: teacher assaulted by pupil

In the recent case of Cunningham v Rochdale Metropolitan Council (2021) the Court of Appeal gave judgment in a case involving the potential liability of a local authority for an assault on a teacher by a pupil.

The facts, in summary, were that Colin Cunningham (C), an assistant head teacher, was punched in the face by a pupil. He suffered a fractured cheekbone and psychiatric injuries. He did not make a full recovery and retired from teaching.

C taught at Brownhill Learning Community. This school provided education and support for children with behavioural difficulties and challenging behaviour who were outside mainstream education. The pupil who attacked C had suffered two bereavements. His behaviour had deteriorated and he had previously attacked C and had been excluded.

C claimed compensation from the local authority responsible for the school, for negligence and breach of statutory duty. His claim was rejected by the High Court and he appealed to the Court of Appeal. That court dismissed the appeal and made the following points:

· The local authority owed C a duty of care to provide him with a safe system of work. The standard of care was that of a reasonable, prudent and competent school.

· An employer is generally required to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for the purposes of finding out what reasonable steps should be taken to provide a safe system of work.

· C had established breaches of the duty of care owed to him by the local authority. The school had failed to carry out risk assessments, failed to arrange a return to school interview for the school and had failed to arrange a restorative justice meeting.

· However, C had been unable to show that if the risk assessments had been carried out, or if the meetings had taken place, the attack would not have taken place.

· The prospect that the pupil would not have assaulted C because he had had a return to school interview and a restorative justice interview was possible, but not probable and more likely than not to have prevented the attack.

· The pupil has had the benefit of extensive interventions over the course of the year.

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