Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Making a meal of lunchtime?

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How many supervisors does your school need to have at lunchtime? The Court of Appeal has not ruled on a specific number: it still depends upon the circumstances.

However, in one case (Palmer v Cornwall County Council [2009]) a supervisor who looked after year 7, 8, and 9 pupils on the field admitted that she was hardly looking at the year 9s and 10s. When a pupil was struck in the eye by a stone, the court found that the school was negligent.

The judge said: "First, to have one dinner lady supervisor who would be stretched to supervise over 150 pupils in years 7 and 8, only glancing occasionally at years 9 and 10, was in my view clearly negligent.

"Second, since the purpose of appropriate supervision is to deter children taking part in dangerous activities, as well as to stop dangerous activities if they do occur, a court should not be too ready to accept that the dangerous activity would have happened anyway.

"Third, where as here the recorder found witnesses called by the appellant were telling the truth, there was no reason not to accept their evidence that if a supervisor had been near they would not have thrown stones because they knew that stone throwing was prohibited."

The action was brought under Occupier's Liability and it is a caution to schools that they need to anticipate problems and have some kind of risk assessment of supervision. Cross your fingers and hope is not good enough, nor is believing that what has never happened never will.

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