Teachers threaten to boycott sports

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The Independent Online
School sports could be hit by a teachers' boycott because of fears that staff could be held liable for accidents on the pitch.

Teachers are threatening to stop taking games outside school hours after a rugby referee was held liable for injuries sustained by a young player during a scrum.

The biggest union, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), is writing to all teachers' employers today to demand information about whether its members are insured when they take team practices and after-school matches. Any school or authority that cannot provide reassurance within 48 hours will face a boycott of extra-curricular sport by union members.

The other two main teachers' unions, the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) are also telling members that they should not take team games outside school hours unless they are sure they are covered. The ATL is advising teachers not to bow to pressure to take lessons in dangerous sports such as rugby or swimming unless they are fully qualified.

The action follows a claim for damages by a rugby player who was paralysed after a scrum collapsed, the first such case to be brought against a referee. Ben Smoldon, aged 21, has been confined to a wheelchair since the accident which took place while he was playing for Sutton Coldfield Colts.

Although employers' liability insurance protects staff in the course of their duties, and an agreement set up in 1973 obliges local authorities to make sure that extra-curricular activities are covered, the unions fear that there may be loopholes. Grant-maintained schools are not covered by the agreement and new unitary authorities may not be aware of it, the NUT says.

The NUT general secretary, Doug McAvoy, said it would be foolhardy for teachers to carry on taking sports if they were not sure that they were covered.

"It is unacceptable that their commitment to school sport and their pupils' physical development could leave them open to claims for damages," he said.

Alan Parker, education officer of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, said he thought all local authority schools had proper insurance. However, he admitted that there were "grey areas" where staff members took children for activities which might not be defined as part of their jobs, such as friendly games at a local sports centre or club.

"It is a reasonable action for the NUT to take but I would be extremely surprised if it revealed any problem within a maintained school," he said.

Nigel Hook, deputy general secretary of the Central Council for Physical Recreation, urged heads and governing bodies to check their insurance as a matter of urgency.