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HSE prosecute Luton Borough Council after teacher assaulted by pupil

Updated: Feb 16

Luton Borough Council has been prosecuted by the HSE and pleaded guilty following an incident at Putteridge High School in which an assistant head teacher was attacked by a pupil and left with a permanent brain injury.

On the day that the attack took place, the pupil, who had a history of violence at home and disruption in school, had caused disruption in an art class and had been sent to an isolation room but ignored this and went into her normal classroom.

The assistant head teacher, who was the safeguarding lead, was called to the classroom to deal with the situation. She cleared the other pupils out of the classroom and the pupil in question then attacked her using a mobile phone as a weapon.

The court was told Putteridge High School did not have risk assessments to protect staff from violent pupils.

Despite workplace guidance from the Department for Education in 2014 the school's board of governors had chosen against a violence and aggression safety policy. Luton Borough Council (the local authority running the school) pleaded guilty to one count in breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Central government considers local authority schools should be run by headteachers and governors, this initially led the council to plead "not guilty" based on having few powers of intervention over the school. However, it changed its plea to guilty on the second day of trial.

There was a history of violence at the school. In the 2015/16 academic year several disturbing incidents also occurred before the attack, including:

  • Pupils slamming a door against a teacher.

  • A male pupil on Ritalin became violent and aggressive "to the point of throwing chairs and spitting".

  • A male pupil who was "generally abusive to staff" was found to have a stolen bicycle. The boy was excluded, but he refused to leave. His parent attended and became confrontational and several staff became involved.

  • A boy with ADHD was repeatedly violent and aggressive. He had two tantrums; it took seven members of staff to restrain him.

  • A boy with schizophrenia who said he heard voices including ones telling him to make knife attacks on the school, a mosque, and another school.

  • Another suspected schizophrenic who became involved in violent gang crime.

  • A 14-year old boy who turned up drunk and threw a missile at the head teacher.

  • Two boys in 2016 made death threats to a teacher.

The HSE launched an investigation in September 2016 after learning about the attack on the assistant head teacher and visited the school the following month. A great deal of paperwork was found for safeguarding but none for the risk to staff from violent or aggressive pupils.

The court heard that, by 2016, none of the staff had received recent health and safety training. In some cases, training had last been provided as far back as 2009 and none of that training had dealt with the potential risk from aggressive pupils.

The assistant head teacher had allegedly asked the school for further training, but none was given.

The prosecution said: "Some of these children and the adults associated with them were plainly very difficult people to deal with. But we do say it was foreseeable that sooner or later, the teaching body at the school was going to come across a difficult customer."

The council was fined £104,000. The court reduced the fine from £300,000 to take account of the effects of the pandemic on the council’s finances.

After the case the HSE said Luton Borough Council did not ensure that the school had people with sufficient competence in the management of health and safety involved in running the school to ensure that the threat was addressed. The council did not see to it that staff members at the school had the training either to remedy that shortcoming or to deal with violent and aggressive pupils in a way which did not expose them to risk. The council also failed to monitor the adequacy of the measures Putteridge High School had in place and the council therefore failed to pick up and address the shortcomings.

To try to minimise the risk of such incidents, the school should have:

1. Employed competent people to manage their health and safety, e.g. train existing staff;

2. Involved the relevant staff with the risk assessments and looked at the past incidents when; considering the hazards. When considering harm think of what could happen if it goes wrong and what control measures are required to reduce that risk;

3. Reviewed the risk assessments regularly and after any incidents;

4. Carried out audits and acted on any shortfalls;

5. Provided regular refresher training as determined from the risk assessment.

The council should have:

1. Employed competent people for their health and safety;

2. Carried out audits and ensured any shortcomings were addressed;

3. Monitored and reviewed.

The pupil who attacked the assistant head teacher was prosecuted herself for assault and was sentenced accordingly.

Written by

Steve Taylor, Health and Safety Advisor at rradar

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