Michael Evans considers some of the contributions that have been made in recent years in the areas of health and safety.

First aid or emergency aid

Well within the memory of some of the more senior members of the teaching profession, nobody worried too much about health and safety. True, there was usually a first-aid box in the school, but this usually contained little more than a roll of cotton wool and a box of Elastoplast dressings. Those days of casual behaviour are now long past.

School First Aid, or more properly, Emergency Aid is now an exacting science, requiring intensive training that must be updated at regular intervals. It is no longer sufficient to be adept at dealing with nose bleeds and grazed knees. Staff must now confidently be able to handle a whole range of possible emergencies. If a visitor suffers a heart attack or a contractor drills through a power cable and gets electrocuted, these are among emergencies that must be confidently dealt with. Most will probably never happen, but on the other hand they just might so it is prudent to be prepared.

The need for a vigilant teacher

Modern teachers are not just expected to teach. In addition to having a sound knowledge of emergency life support, they must also be an expert at identifying the signs of child abuse. Some forms of abuse are clearly evident, such as bruising or other forms of injury, but identification is often down to an astute teacher.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is another topic that has been covered in Education Now. This is universally regarded as an horrific form of child abuse and should a teacher become aware of a girl being treated in this way, there is a statutory obligation to inform the police.

Other areas that many teachers find themselves having to deal with are self-harm, potential suicide and mental health. These are chiefly adolescent problems, although they can also affect younger children. Again, teachers are often the first people and pointers are necessary for them to spot the signs and it should be possible to steer a pupil in the direction of specialist help.

Bullying for various reasons

Self-harm and potential suicide are areas that generally result from extreme unhappiness and depression. Several articles have considered reasons for this. A major factor is how pupils see themselves. They can feel that they are too fat, too thin, too tall or too short; and social media can exacerbate this problem when unflattering pictures are posted for all to see.

Bullying is fairly endemic in schools, although many schools find it hard to accept that they have an issue. A major problem is that it is very difficult to identify and therefore prevent. The growth of social media has given bullies untold advantages and schools have to fight running battles in order to safeguard their pupils. In spite of a number of excellent screening and filtering programs, the best course of action is to educate pupils as to what is and what is not acceptable behaviour.

Pupils need guidance on how to look after their bodies

Obesity is an obvious health issue for children as they grow up. The need for a healthy diet, coupled with regular exercise are areas that can be included in the PSHE curriculum.

Other health issues that can also be included are smoking, alcohol consumption and restricted drugs. All of these will be freely available to adolescents and many will have tried at least one of them. The role of the teacher will be to make pupils aware of the inherent dangers that are associated with these. In truth, despite what many of the general population seem to think, the majority of young people are not regular smokers, hard drinkers or drug takers.

The journey to school and the school run

Another difficult problem that has been highlighted is the journey to and from school. Pupils in school uniform are easily identified and bad behaviour on the bus or in the street can have a profound effect on a school’s reputation.

Associated with this is parental behaviour on the school run. Being brought to school by car is the norm in many cases and this can result in many cars arriving at the same time during the morning drop-off and evening pick-up periods. If there is no control, serious injuries can result. The logical answer is for pupils to walk to school, but in many cases this is simply not practicable.

Risk management

The identification and management of risk is another area that has come to prominence in recent years. In the early days, a risk assessment was regarded as being a particularly onerous task requiring the identification and elimination of every possible risk. This obviously cramped all creative activity and it took a while for teachers and schools to realise that although risks needed to be identified, the majority of these risks could quite easily be managed.

Keeping the school secure

Premises security involves the prevention of unauthorised entry, guarding against theft and the safeguarding of valuable resources. Alongside this will be the safeguarding of staff, pupils and visitors under the duty of care regulations.

A major crisis would be any unforeseen event that requires immediate action. Fortunately, major crises are very rare and many schools will never experience one. Some crises can be planned for on a worst-case scenario basis, with an appropriate plan of action drawn up. Examples can be a fire in the school or the sudden death of a member of staff or a pupil.

An extreme case would be an armed intruder in a school. Many will remember the incident in March 1996 when a gunman entered Dunblane Primary School in Scotland and shot dead 16 children and their teacher, before turning the gun on himself. Although the UK is far from being immune from such an attack, fortunately we are a long way from the situation in the USA, where Time Magazine reported that between December 2012 and December 2018, there had been 57 shootings in US schools resulting in 77 deaths, 63 of whom were pupils.

Recent years have seen growing threats from terrorism and knife crime in the UK and schools need to be prepared.

Something else that a school needs to prepare for is a possible lockdown. This is a procedure where in the event of some identified urgent risk or threat a school needs to rapidly isolate and protect itself together with those who are inside. Effectively, the school becomes sealed off from the outside world.

The risk might be anything from a dangerous animal, a dangerous chemical leak, an intruder, civil unrest or the risk of smoke and fumes from a serious fire nearby.

Staying safe now and in the future

The world can be a dangerous place, but schools are generally very safe places. There are a number of reasons for this, the chief one being that safety is always high on the school agenda and staff take their responsibilities very seriously. Over the years, these responsibilities have grown in number and there is a constant need to keep up to date.

Last reviewed 10 June 2019