Some things simply make one feel old: the 90s revival, being older than your doctor, complaining about people playing music on public transport. To this (abridged) list I can now add school games lessons. Back in my day (a phrase that can be added to the aforementioned list) school sport largely consisted of being cold and taking part in team games in the winter (good character building stuff no doubt) or in the summer, a bit of cricket and then pretending that anyone cared about athletics.
What wasn’t contemplated was teaching the pupils how to play golf, and if Hammersley-Gonsalves (A child by his litigation friend T Gonsalves) v Redcar & Cleveland BC is anything to go by, a very wise policy that was indeed. The decision in Hammersley-Gonsalves has just been handed down by the Court of Appeal. The Claimant, who at the time of the accident was almost twelve years old, was being taught golf at his secondary school. The school had given 22 boys six indoor golf lessons. For the seventh lesson, the enterprising PE teacher had created a golf course in the school grounds.
Quite properly, the teacher taking the lesson had told the pupils, who each had one club and one ball, not to use their club or hit anything until instructed to do so. The pupils walked out onto the school grounds in single file. However, boys being boys, one of the children decided to disregard the instruction and when having reached the school field, put his ball down and took a swing. Unfortunately, this resulted in C being hit in the face by the golf club. Equally unfortunately, this not being a proper golf club, there wasn’t a collection of doctors in the club house bar.
The Claimant succeed at first instance, with the judge finding that the teacher could not see what the pupils were doing, and that he did not see the pupil swing the club that hit the Claimant. As such, it was held that the lesson had not been adequately supervised and consequently that the Defendant local authority had not met the appropriate standard of care.
The Court of Appeal had no trouble with the judge’s finding that the teacher could not see every pupil at every moment. However, it was difficult to see how the Claimant could succeed absent an allegation relating to staffing ratios. It was obvious to the Court of Appeal that one teacher could not be expected to see every action of 22 boys when walking in single file, however, on the judge’s finding a lack of adequate supervision was not made out. There had been no history of bad behaviour and the action of the careless young golfer was unexpected.
Although the question of appropriate staffing ratios had not been argued, in the cricumstances closer and additional supervision was not required given the age of the children and the nature of the activity. Also, even if the teacher had been negligent in not observing the boy swinging the club, it also had to be established that that failure was causative of the Claimant’s injuries. The judge had not dealt with this and there was no finding that on a balance of probabilities any action by the teacher would have prevented the accident.
All in all it would have been far better to stick with football.