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Background Info

Playground supervision cannot prevent every accident or incident, but it will increase the security of the environment in which pupils are placed on arriving at school and minimise risk. 

Supervision is particularly important for children arriving on school transport between 08.35 and 08.55am, whose parents have devolved responsibility to the local authority once they have boarded the bus.  

Due to pick-up times arranged with transport contractors, some pupils can arrive up to twenty minutes before the school building opens. Some are as young as 4 years old.

Parents entrust their children to the local authority, who in turn have a duty of care towards these children 'in loco parentis'. This means the local authorities should provide the same care for these children as would be expected of a parent.

Legislation currently stipulates that local authorities must have at least one member of staff in the playground at break times at either (i) a primary school at which 50 or more pupils are in attendance; or (ii) a special school, but it makes no mention of the period before school starts when children arrive on school transport.

Only with a formal early morning playground supervision policy that takes account of the safety risks in the playground, will schools fulfil their "duty to take reasonable care for the safety of pupils when under their charge" (The Schools (Safety and Supervision of Pupils) (Scotland) Regulations 1990 & Education (Scotland) Act 1980). 

Legislative guidance to local authorities ought to make provision for the safety of children in their charge from the minute they enter the school bus, to the minute they arrive back home at the end of the school day. This includes monitoring:

• the arrival and departure of buses
• supervising the arrival and departure of children on and off the buses, and
• making adequate provision in the playground before, during and after school in order to minimise risk and foreseeable harm.

I have been told by several schools in the process of collecting data, that local authorities are only currently required to have a member of staff 'point of contact' inside the building during the 20 minute period before school starts, and there is no legal requirement for the teacher to be physically in the playground.  Local policy is set at the discretion of individual head teachers and again this means that in practice, there is huge variation. 

Schools are expected by the Health & Safety Executive, to conform to Health & Safety regulations and thorough risk assessments of potential playground hazards should be undertaken.  This should also apply to the period after school transport arrives and before school starts, as well as at break and lunchtimes.

There are many risks that face young children during the period before school starts that warrant revision of the relevant legislation:

  • Arrival and departure of vehicles (council/staff/parents)
  • Potential for children to wander off school premises
  • Proximity of school buildings to car parks and busy roads
  • Lack of secure entry and exits and low perimeter fencing
  • Stranger danger
  • Accident and injury
  • Bullying

While children play in the playground, adult supervision is necessary at all times to prevent injuries. Children might not be able to foresee the consequences of misuse of the playground equipment. Adults can intervene if a child is using the equipment inappropriately or administer first aid if necessary.

Following the death of a pupil in Livingston in 2005, West Lothian council have changed their policy to ensure that all primary schools provide supervision 15 minutes before the start of the school day. Following the death of two pupils near Fraserburgh and Turiff in 2008 who were hit by cars while alighting school buses,  Aberdeenshire Council have done nothing in terms of acknowledging or addressing the grave and ever-present risks to young children arriving without their parents. 

Aberdeenshire Council has stated in their dealings with me, that they will not be implementing an early morning supervision policy for cost reasons and many primary school pupils arriving on school transport therefore remain unsupervised and at risk. These three tragedies alone ought to be reason enough to review wider national policy and guidelines, so that all local authorities are required to provide early morning supervision.

In summary:

  • Supervision cannot be effectively carried out from within the school building.
  • Current legislation on playground supervision at primary schools does not take account of the risks ever present to children who arrive on school transport buses, up to twenty minutes before the schools open, when their parents have no control over arrival times. 
  • Current legislation does not obligate local authorities to adequately fulfil their duty of care to the safety of children arriving on school transport, which places these children at risk of harm. 

I believe current legislative guidance gives too much discretion to local authorities, thereby permitting them to provide an inadequate minimum standard of supervision.  I would like to see the guidance strengthened to recognise the importance of pupil supervision and safety at this time of day, as well as at break and lunchtimes.

Leglislation must be more specific regarding the safety of children at this time of day, in order to ensure that schools recognise and address these safety risks.

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