Pupils and staff at Sheffield schools have claimed £2.2 million in compensation in five years – with almost £1m paid out, The Star can reveal today.
Incidents paid out on include £54,000 paid to a member of staff for a slip, £37,000 for two teachers struck by the same falling object and £17,900 paid to a pupil for exposure to chemicals and fumes.
Other claims include a £146,000 claimed by a pupil for a fire – of which £14,000 has already been paid out – and £530,000 for a trip by a member of staff, with £21,900 paid out already.
A total of £2.2m of claims have been lodged between 2009 and 2014, with £956,725.27 paid out during the same period, the figures obtained under The Star’s Your Right to Know campaign reveal.
Ecclesfield School had the most claims – 10 claims with a total value of £155,274.
City School was second with £116,807 across nine claims, followed by Gleadless Primary with £61,481 and Life Long Learning, Skills & Communities with £59,997.
Claims valued at £47,328 total were made at High Storrs School, followed by £42,400 at Birley Community College.
The claims in Sheffield include £17,038 for a pupil who was assaulted, £42,798 paid to an assaulted member of staff and £44,583 to a teacher for ‘inhalation’.
In 2013 a member of staff claimed £32,000 for ‘stress’, of which £2,893 was paid out.
Jonathan Isaby, chief executive at the Taxpayers Alliance, said: “This is a remarkable sum and taxpayers will be stunned. One of two things is happening – either the council isn’t providing a safe space, or they are paying out too quickly on spurious claims. Either way, taxpayers are stuck with the bill and at a time of necessary financial restraint, the council must figure out a way to bring the total down so that taxes can be used for essential services rather than picking up the legal pieces.”
Sheffield Councillor Colin Ross said: “It is a sad reality that we live in a litigious age where claims against public bodies or companies are encouraged as this does impact upon councils as well. However, the council and schools should do all that is possible to ensure that our buildings are as safe and secure as possible.”
But Sheffield Council stressed it did not directly pay out cash on behalf of its schools, but said compensation works on an insurance service.
It also strongly denied its schools are unsafe and said the authority continuously monitors and manages risks.
A Sheffield Council spokesman said: “Let’s be clear here – the money is ultimately paid out by the schools and not the council as all Sheffield schools buy back an insurance service from the council.
“The council does not subsidise the cost of school insurance or compensation claims. Our insurance team thoroughly investigates each and every claim and robustly defends them where appropriate. As a result payments are not made in two-thirds of cases.
“We would also refute any allegation claiming our schools are unsafe as a recent independent audit of safety in our schools identified that our schools are safe and risks are well managed.
“However, incidents can happen in schools as they happen elsewhere, and we work closely with schools to identify any lessons from these.
“These lessons are shared across schools in Sheffield and we have a continuous programme of work to support schools in managing risks.
“Individual payments made in cases also include legal costs and fees incurred for medical experts or reimbursements including hospital charges, for example.
“It is also important to note that the claims received in the last five years do not relate to incidents only occurring in this time frame – some go much further back but schools and local authorities do not have any influence over when someone is legally able to make a claim.
“When a claim is lodged the council identifies the maximum amount of money which that claimant could be paid. But only 35 per cent of claims result in payment, and most often this is a lower amount than the potential maximum it could have been.
“It is also important to point out that ‘assault’ also refers to non-intentional injury caused by another person.
“In terms of the individual schools named, there are no trends at these schools to suggest any underlying safety issues and the majority of incidents recorded do not relate to pupils. It is also important to note the data being referred to does not indicate separate incidents, as different claims can refer to the same incident, for example someone might fall and break their wrist but this could result in a number of different compensation awards, such as medical costs and further costs may be separately awarded dependant on how this break may have effected the individual – whether they can still write, drive and so on.”