Alex Wilkins, Head of Business Development at iHASCO

Many teachers and lecturers approach the new academic year with an adrenalin-rich blend of excitement and nerves.

Education, like healthcare, is one of those topics everybody cares about and educators know how accountable that makes them – to their students, parents, government at all levels, their colleagues and the school management team (SMT).

As a result, the start of term can be fraught as timetables are established, expectations set, goals allocated and training arranged.

There can be a strong focus on external perceptions:

  • How are we looking in the league tables
  • Do we have enough funding,
  • How do we compare with other schools/colleges,
  • Where do we stand with Ofsted, how good were last year’s results?

Sadly, sometimes, the very basics can be overlooked.

At the heart of all education lies a duty of care, and that includes health and safety. The safety of students and staff is paramount and schools and colleges must comply with legislation that demands actions and precautions.

These include a legal duty to train staff in health and safety, and to maintain that with refresher training.

Health and safety in education is a hot topic at the moment, with good reason. Educators are given responsibility for some of society’s most vulnerable members, for extended periods and in a wide range of situations. It’s a tough job, and the breadth of health and safety knowledge and accountability involved is pretty daunting.

Every two years the Department of Education (DfE) updates and circulates a guidance document, called Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE). The KCSIE for each period brings together schools’ and colleges’ safeguarding duties towards all students under 18 (which of course fall under the banner of health and safety) and this aspect alone mandates actions on everything from initial safeguarding interventions to safe recruitment and how to handle allegations against staff members.

The most recent (2019) KCSIE update included many changes and any schools that have yet to roll out training (and refresher training) really need to do so now.

Everybody Matters

Other aspects of health and safety training, such as fire safety and first aid, perhaps seem more obvious and some institutions may feel happy with their provision.

But all educators should stop and ask themselves three questions, ideally at the start of each term:

  1. The first is, are we training and refreshing our training to sufficiently high standards?
  2. The second is, if we are asked to prove and document our health and safety training, can we demonstrate compliance to the required standard?
  3. The third is, are we reaching and appropriately training all of the staff members we need to?

While it is easy to focus on teaching and front-of-house staff, most schools and colleges employ people in less ‘obvious’ roles that can really make a difference to safety.

Sadly, many of these workers – who may include lunchtime supervisors, library staff and support workers – can be overlooked or under-served when it comes to training, to the detriment of staff and students alike.

Addressing Mental Health

In recent years there has been a laudable focus on improving mental health, and this has been reflected in government policy. Students’ mental health can often overlap strongly with their behaviour in and around school or college.

This is a key issue, reflected in the DfE’s issuing of new guidance in November 2018.

Of course, both mental health and associated behaviours fall under health and safety, too.

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Places of education have a duty to identify and respond to signs of mental ill health in their students. But what about their staff?

The levels of burn-out and stress among teachers and other educators is well documented, education is a stressful business, with up to 47% of education professionals experiencing anxiety or panic attacks as a result of their work.

Health and safety at work legislation applies to educational institutions as much as any other workplace, and this often generates a need for training.

The good news here is that if institutions develop a reputation for genuinely supportive and insightful behaviour around mental health (including training) it can give them an advantage when they need to recruit.

Practical tips

Health and safety compliance is more challenging in education than in many other workplaces, given the breadth of activities covered and the range of stakeholders (and thus, duties of care) involved.

The landscape is constantly changing, and it can be hard for staff to keep their knowledge current.

Education is a complex sector in its own right, and health and safety training / refresher training is just one of many accountabilities that SMTs and governing bodies must cover.

Furthermore, it is easy for schools and colleges to overlook those most in need of training, such as new starters (their previous schools may have had a very different focus, or they may be newly-qualified and completely unfamiliar with the relevant issues), along with those whose training is now out of date.

Yet any failure to comply with health and safety training may have catastrophic consequences.

   All of these pressures apply when schools and colleges choose their training partner, and that’s why it’s crucial to work with a provider that can fulfil their education-specific training needs through engaging, video-based eLearning.

In addition, modern eLearning providers can take away the worry of monitoring and demonstrating legal compliance by using advanced learning management systems that automate this traditionally tedious and time-intensive process.

Alex Wilkins, Head of Business Development, iHASCO

About Alex Wilkins: Alex is certified in Applied Health & Safety and is responsible for developing partnerships with external companies and looking after major accounts at iHASCO, a market-leading provider of Health & Safety and HR Compliance eLearning.

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