A number of local schools have been criticised for closing during the recent bout of snowy weather. Steve Webb, Head of Personal Injury at Thompson Smith & Puxon, comments on the general legal aspect of closures.
Schools, like all occupiers of land, have a responsibility under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957, as well as at common law, to take reasonable care to ensure that pupils and other visitors are reasonably safe when on school premises.
When the snow and ice arrive in the winter, therefore, head teachers have to give thought to whether their schools should open, and one consideration, perhaps understandably, is whether by opening they are vulnerable to criticism, or indeed compensation claims if a pupil, teacher or parent or other visitor slips over and is hurt.
The test is one of reasonableness and so as long as a school makes reasonable attempts to prevent slipping accidents by appropriate and proportionate clearance and/or gritting of exterior pathways, play grounds and common areas, and provides reasonable supervision of the pupils, a Court would be likely to be slow to criticise a decision to keep a school open in snowy weather.
Whilst plainly there are other factors involved in the decision to be made, such as heating the school adequately, and the ability of teachers and pupils to travel safely to and from school at the beginning, and, perhaps more importantly, the end of the school day, I think the fear of compensation claims if a pupil should be injured at school is perhaps an over-reaction in the light of the true legal position. As long as the school takes reasonable steps to ensure safety of its pupils it will escape any liability.