Ruling due in swimming lesson case
A woman who nearly drowned during a swimming lesson 13 years ago will find out this week if she has won her case against her local education authority after taking her fight to the highest court in the land.
Annie Woodland was a 10-year-old pupil at Whitmore Junior School in Basildon, Essex, when she had to be pulled from the water and resuscitated at Gloucester Park pool in July 2000.
A hearing at the Supreme Court in July heard that the school had contracted Direct Swimming Services to give pupils lessons but not all of the swimming teachers present had insurance.
Lawyers acting for Miss Woodland, who now has severe learning difficulties, argued that the Essex County Council-run school owed her a duty of care covering all mainstream activities which applied even where third parties were contracted to provide teaching.
If successful, the case would be a landmark judgment and result in schools having to review the circumstances in which they outsource educational activity as they could be liable for negligence of their contractors.
Lawyers for Miss Woodland argued that as swimming lessons were a mandatory part of the national curriculum and took place during the school day, the school should have had ultimate responsibility for her welfare which they could not delegate.
Both the High Court and Court of Appeal have previously ruled in favour of Essex County Council, which had insisted that it should be allowed to contract out swimming and would not be liable for any negligence of their chosen teachers.
Five judges at the Supreme Court are due to deliver their decision on Wednesday.
Catherine Leech, a partner in the personal injury department at Pannone Solicitors, which is acting for Miss Woodland, said the judgment would be of significance to parents and local education authorities alike.
"It promises to offer clarity as to whether schools can abrogate their responsibilities by using third parties to take charge of what we believe are integral parts of the timetable as well as underlining what duty of care parents can expect when their children turn up for lessons," she said.
"Unless our appeal succeeds, schools in England and Wales will be permitted to contract out their duty to pupils during the school day, without being responsible for their pupils' safety during subcontracted lessons or activities.
"This is a tragic case where a child had her future dramatically changed through the negligent actions of others. Her parents, Ian and Alison, are now faced with taking care of Annie for the rest of their lives.
"It has devastated the whole family. They are very anxious that other parents do not have to go through what they have experienced.
"They entrusted the school with the care of their daughter and they believe the school failed them all."