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Compensation hits new high

Teachers were awarded more than pound;14 million last year as a result of accident claims, employment disputes and assaults - up by nearly a third since 2003.

Britain's three largest teacher unions will reveal the record-breaking figures (equivalent to pound;30 for every teacher in state schools in England and Wales) at their annual conferences next week.

The National Union of Teachers, NASUWT and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers all showed big increases in the compensation awarded to teachers for personal injury claims. It reflects the success of legal action by unions but raises concern about health and safety in schools. The figures come as compensation in other parts of society are falling.

The largest payment of pound;402,000 was made to an NUT member in a Staffordshire secure unit who suffered back injuries and was unable to return to work after being assaulted by a pupil. Other claims included a teacher who won pound;14,500 after injuring his jaw waterskiing on a school trip, and pound;2,700 paid to a primary teacher from Merseyside, when a fairground ride ran over her left foot.

The total payments made to union members as a result of accident, assault and employment cases increased from pound;10.9m in 2003 to pound;14.2m in 2005.

The NASUWT won pound;7.6m in 2005, and the ATL pound;4.6m, but the latter includes claims made on behalf of further education as well as school staff. The NUT refused to calculate a total. Its report to conference lists cases worth more than pound;2m, but Graham Clayton, the union's senior solicitor, said benefits to members would exceed pound;7m.

About half the compensation won by the NASUWT and three-quarters of that won by the ATL was the result of employment- related disputes. Teachers receiving large pay-outs included one given a quarter of million pounds after she injured her back lifting a heavy device for measuring hearing from her headteacher's car.

Further claims are expected as concerns grow over asbestos in schools.

Figures this week showed the potentially deadly fibres had caused the deaths of at least 114 teachers over the past two decades. The unions won compensation for several teachers who had respiratory problems last year.

One teacher was paid pound;114,121 after developing mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by asbestos fibres.

Local authorities have complained to the Government, saying it is unfair that they or their insurers have to pay compensation and said schools should start footing part of the bills.

Les Lawrence, chairman of the Local Government Association's children and young people committee, said: "It would make schools more aware of their responsibilities for health and safety."

Mr Lawrence is also council cabinet member for education in Birmingham, a city that NASUWT figures suggest has had the highest number of teacher compensation wins over the past three years.

Chris Webb-Jenkins, an education specialist at the law firm Browne Jacobson, said figures for teachers were surprising because there had been a reduction in compensation claims nationally .

"The past few years have seen improvements in health and safety which have meant that generally we are seeing fewer of these cases," he said. "It may be that teachers - like pupils and parents - are simply becoming more aware of their rights."

The NASUWT will call next week for a national register to record violence against teachers and for a special forum for unions and the Government to tackle health and safety problems.

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