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Compensation to staff hits record

Unions reveal big rise in claims, report Jon Slater and Michael Shaw

Teachers were awarded more than pound;14 million last year as a result of claims following accidents, employment disputes and assaults, an increase of nearly a third since 2003.

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

The National Union of Teachers, teachers' union the NASUWT, and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers all showed big increases in the compensation awarded to members as a result of personal injury claims, reflecting the increased success of legal action undertaken by unions, but also raising concerns about health and safety precautions in schools.

It comes as compensation payouts across 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 left 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 school teacher from Litherland, 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;10.9 million in 2003 to pound;14.2m in 2005.

The NASUWT won pound;7.6m in 2005 and the ATL pound;4.6m, although the latter includes claims made on behalf of further education as well as school staff.

The NUT refused to calculate a total. Its annual report to conference lists cases worth more than pound;2m but Graham Clayton, the union's senior solicitor, said total benefits to members would be more than 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 pound;250,000 after she injured her back lifting a heavy device that measured hearing from her headteacher's car.

Further claims are expected as concerns grow over the levels of 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, including one who was awarded pound;114,121 after developing mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos fibres.

Local authorities have complained to the Westminster Government that it is unfair that they or their insurers are having to pay the compensation. They suggested that 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 which the 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 the figures for teachers were surprising because nationally there had been a reduction in compensation claims.

"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."

Union conferences, news 5

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