School sports and concussion

10 May 2019

Managing the risks of concussion in school contact sports, particularly rugby

Rugby players

The benefit of playing rugby in schools is not only the enhancement of a student’s physical health but also their mental and social well-being.  This should continue to be encouraged. However, engaging in such activity is not without some risk of injury.

In some quarters, concerns have been raised about the long term health effect concussion can have on children. Concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury and can be caused by impact in contact sports.

In a recent survey we found around a third of educational establishments are concerned about the risks associated with students playing contact sports such as rugby1.

Taking reasonable precautions to ensure games are safe

There is the possibility that a school can be held liable for rugby-related injuries where there is evidence of negligence.

The following examples show how this can arise.

Assessing pupils are of an appropriate age and maturity to play in a particular match.

Two schools are competing when a collision occurs between pupils. The injured party seeks to claim against one of the schools for the injury.

  • The school was held vicariously liable for the actions of a member of staff who selected a pupil for a match that was over the applicable age for the group and therefore was not fairly or appropriately matched with the other players.
  • The pupil’s weight, superior size and maturity contributed to an opposing player being hurt.

Ensuring staff are adequately trained.

The referee attending a match between two schools is fairly inexperienced. He allows a less experienced substitute to come on and play in the front row. The substitute is injured in a scrum and seeks to claim against the school.

  • The referee should have made a basic enquiry with the team captain concerning the substitute’s abilities to play in the front row.
  • The ‘home’ school is usually responsible for appointing match officials and could therefore be liable for the referee’s decision.

Managing the risk of concussion in rugby

The arrangements necessary for managing the risk from concussion when playing rugby will be dependent upon a school’s individual circumstances. This may involve consideration of:

  • physical safety precautions to reduce the risk of concussion
  • supervision during competitive play or any related training activity
  • adequate numbers of staff to officiate and coach
  • arrangements in the event of an emergency
  • suitable precautions during play
  • concussion management, following injury
  • training and information for staff and others
  • information for students, parents and guardians
  • checking periodically that arrangements remain effective
  • keeping of appropriate records.
Detailed advice on how to manage the risk of concussion in schools can be found in our guidance below.

Ecclesiastical Annual Education Tracking Survey 2017, base 120