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Frequently asked questions - Education

These FAQs help illustrate the nature of some of the issues that HSE routinely gives advice on.  The list is not exhaustive and further questions and answers may be added at a latter date.

Design and technology

Are there any safety guidelines for design and technology workshops?

A useful British Standard provides safety guidelines for design and technology workshops. BS 4163:2007 Health and safety for design and technology in schools and similar establishments - Code of practice, provides guidance for people responsible for design and technology facilities in schools and similar establishments. The recommendations cover safe use of equipment, machine tools, materials and chemicals, and personal protective equipment. Standards can be purchased from the BSI online shop.


What are the different types of school and who is the employer in each of these?

The legal responsibility and thus accountability for health and safety lies with the employer. This will depend on the category of school.  In England the Local Authority is the employer in:

  • community schools, community special schools, voluntary controlled schools, maintained nursery schools and pupil referral units.

The Governing Body is the employer in:

  • Foundation schools, foundation special schools, voluntary aided schools, academies and free schools

The proprietor is the employer in independent schools.

Although overall accountability lies with the school employer, other senior school managers involved in the day to day running of the school also have responsibility for the health and safety of staff and pupils.

In Scotland:

the majority of schools are state owned and operated by local authorities. The local authority is the employer;

There are a few grant aided schools, which are independent of local authorities, but which are supported financially by the Scottish Government. The Governing Body, or equivalent, is the employer.

For independent schools, the proprietor, Board of Trustees or equivalent,  is the employer.

Where does health and safety fit with devolved budgets in schools and what is the local authority's role?

In England LA education funding schemes set out conditions with which governing bodies must comply in managing the expenditure of the funds delegated to them. LAs have been advised to include provisions designed to ensure that they have sufficient power to ensure that the work necessary for compliance with health and safety legislation is carried out. The schemes should require governing bodies to:

  • supply all financial and other information to enable the LA to be sure that the school is managing its budget satisfactorily;
  • have due regard to the LA's responsibilities for health and safety.

The schemes should also include a provision to enable LAs to charge schools for:

  • expenditure by the LA in carrying out health and safety work for which the authority is liable where funds have been delegated to the governing body for such work, but the governing body has failed to carry out the required work;
  • costs of necessary health and safety training for staff employed by the LA, where funding for training has been delegated but the necessary training has not been carried out.

English and Welsh LAs can also retain money for strategic management of health and safety. This includes funding required for setting policies and standards, providing competence at a strategic level, carrying out active and reactive monitoring, and giving advice to schools. This is authorised by the School Finance (England) Regulations 2008 as amended (Schedule 1) and the School Funding (Wales) Regulations 2010 (Schedule 1).

In Scotland, local authorities have responsibility for the management of devolved budgets and determine to what extent budgets are further devolved to schools.  This includes responsibility for health and safety.

What is the local authority’s involvement with Voluntary Controlled Schools?

The employer in Voluntary Controlled schools is the LA who therefore has overall responsibility for health and safety compliance.. Responsibility cannot be devolved. The LA must provide oversight and monitoring.

A Voluntary Controlled school is usually a religious or faith school, where the land and buildings are owned by a charity (often religious) but the local education authority funds the school, runs it, and employs the staff.

What is the local authority’s involvement with Voluntary Aided Schools?

In Voluntary Aided Schools the governing body is the employer and so is responsible for health and safety. There is no legal requirement for Voluntary Aided Schools to adopt the LA's policies and procedures. Some LAs may make their services and recommendations available to Voluntary Aided Schools for which they make a charge.

A Voluntary Aided school is usually a religious or faith school, where the land and buildings are owned by a charity (often religious) but the governing body runs the school and employs the staff, and the school is jointly funded by the local education authority, the governing body and the charity.

How should schools be managing vehicle movements including immediately outside the schools?

Schools need to assess the risk from vehicle movements on their premises and manage those risks in line with current workplace transport guidance e.g. segregation, marking and lighting.

Schools should consider in their risk assessment vehicle movements occurring immediately outside the school premises which may be associated with school activities, such as staff arriving and leaving work, school buses delivering pupils, delivery vehicles.

Further information on managing risks from workplace transport can be obtained from HSE site safety website.

What is HSE's involvement in incidents occurring on school buses?

HSE should only be involved in investigating a road traffic incident where police demonstrate that serious management failures have been a significant contributory factor.

It is a matter for the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), who award the licences for bus routes, to comment on whether bus companies are operating a safe system of work, as it is here that the knowledge and expertise on matters relating to passenger transport rest.

What measures are there to protect children from back injury sustained through carrying heavy school bags?

There is no specific health and safety legislation limiting the weight that children in school can carry.

Section 3 of the Health and safety at Work etc Act 1974 imposes some duties on employers and the self-employed towards persons other than their employees such as school children. These are amplified by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 which require an assessment of the risks arising from work activities which affect the health and safety of those not in their employment. Although section 3 may apply, other non-HSE legislation concerning the welfare of school children takes precedence.

School science

Does health and safety legislation prevent pupils from undertaking ‘hands on’ science experiments?

Does health and safety legislation prevent pupils from undertaking ‘hands on’ science experiments?

In 2011 the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology reported that practical school science inside and outside the classroom was essential.  They found no evidence that health and safety legislation itself prevents this from happening – rather it was the prevalence of myths and the fear of being sued should something go wrong.  The full report is available from the Commons Select Committee webpages.

HSE encourages schools to allow children to experience risk in a managed environment and does not advocate stopping pupils from participating in exciting science experiments, where they can learn first hand the principles of science and develop an appreciation of the hazards and risks.  Sensible health and safety means focusing on managing the real risks and going ahead with activities – and it is not about generating mountains of paperwork either.

School science trips also have clear benefits for pupils, and large numbers of successful visits and outdoor learning activities take place each year. HSE has published a statement to tackle the myths and bureaucracy that surround school trips.

What information is available on the safety standards applicable to school science lessons?

CLEAPSS provides a wealth of guidance for member schools and authorities in England, Wales and NI/. A similar service is provided for schools in Scotland by SSERC (Scottish Schools Education Research Centre)

School sport

Can we involve pupils in setting up or folding away a trampoline?

As long as simple, sensible precautions are taken, pupils can be involved in setting up or folding away school trampolines.

Each year a small number of pupils assisting in the folding and storage of school trampolines sustain injuries to hands, wrists, fingers or feet. In some cases serious injuries have occurred when fingers and arms have become caught by the hinge points as the trampolines are opened or folded away.

Ensuring pupils are supervised by competent staff who can provide clear instruction and hands on assistance are the key requirements.

Further guidance on safe practice is available from the Association for Physical Education (afPE) in their publication ‘Safe Practice in Physical Education and Sport’ and from the British Gymnastics Association.

Does health and safety legislation place any barriers on participation in school sport?

No - health and safety legislation should not be used as a reason to prevent participation in school sports.

HSE has published a high level statement on children’s play and leisure.  That statement makes clear that mistaken health and safety concerns should not prevent children from expanding their learning and stretching their abilities.  These messages apply equally to school sports and physical education.

Health and safety legislation does require schools to manage the risk from sports activities sensibly but this does not have to be difficult. In most cases this will involve making sure that equipment is suitable for the pupils involved, that grounds are properly maintained and the right level of supervision for pupils is in place.  Managing the risks sensibly means that the schools and relevant teaching staff keep up to date with guidance and standards applicable to the sports that are taught. Many of the National Governing Bodies provide guidance to help schools introduce pupils to their sports, and to help them develop skills progressively and safely.  Guidance on safe practice in physical education and sport is also available for member schools from the Association for Physical Education (AfPE).

Even when school sport is well managed, the physical challenge and competitive nature of some sports may occasionally lead to injuries.  In the event that a pupil playing sport is seriously injured because the risks were not well managed, the accident may be reportable under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR). Guidance is available in HSE’s Education Information Sheet 1.

School trips

What is the relevant legislation in relation to school trips?

The key legislation is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The Act requires employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees and non-employees, so far as is reasonably practicable. The Act also places duties on individuals to take care for the health and safety of themselves and others.

The Act is supplemented by regulations which make the general requirements more explicit.

Key regulations include:

  • the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999, which require employers to undertake risk assessments and put measures in place to control the significant risks;
  • the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations 2004, which require certain providers of facilities for adventure activities to be licensed.

Who enforces legislation for school trips?

Some educational visits in Great Britain will be to premises licensed under the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations 2004. In broad terms, HSE is the enforcing authority for sites run by educational providers, including all centres run by local authorities (LAs). Many LAs have their own centres, although these may be some distance from the LA itself. LAs will be the enforcing authority for the remaining providers, including commercial providers such as multi-activity holiday centres.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 places overall responsibility for health and safety with the employer. In many cases, the employer will be the local authority; in other cases, it will be the governing body or proprietor of the school. The employer has the overall legal responsibility and accountability for the health, safety and welfare for the school staff, and for the health and safety of pupils, visitors and volunteers.

Health and safety functions (but not accountability) can be delegated to members of staff within the school to fulfil health and safety responsibilities on behalf of the employer.

Teachers organising and taking part in school visits off-site accept responsibility for the care and welfare of pupils, and they act in loco parentis. They will also have duties as employees and/or managers under health and safety at work legislation.

Does HSE enforce on overseas trips?

The duties in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the regulations made under it apply to activities taking place on or off school premises (including school visits) in Great Britain.

Any incident occurring overseas is outside HSE's jurisdiction and HSE will not investigate or take action in relation to the actual circumstances of the incident itself. Whether criminal charges should arise from such incidents would be a matter for the relevant national authorities to consider and pursue. Some countries may allow parents and other parties to institute civil actions or private prosecutions following death or injury.

HSE can, however, consider any circumstances relating to activities carried out in Great Britain to support a particular visit which may reveal systemic failings in the management of school trips. This could include general management arrangements, ie risk assessments for the activities, training and competence of staff, co-operation and co-ordination with other parties.

What is HSE's role in regulating expedition providers?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 applies to any provider activity taking place in Great Britain. If a school is considering using one of these organisations then the school or local authority needs to apply some basic health and safety measures in judging the provider’s suitability. It is crucial that you check their risk assessment and control measures for the proposed activity. If these do not demonstrate competent and effective planning and organisation, then the school would be unwise to consider using the provider.

Do teachers running educational visits need qualifications or safety training?

Employers must be satisfied that their teachers and staff are competent to lead or supervise a visit. It is a legal requirement that leaders are competent for the activities they are leading. On adventurous activities, leaders with specialist skills and qualifications will be needed for the activity elements of the trip. Teachers will generally be in charge at other times.

What are low-risk activities?

Low-risk activities are those that typically involve everyday risks, such as slips and trips. These should be differentiated from the much greater risks associated with outdoor adventurous activities such as caving, canoeing, rock-climbing etc.

Do we need to have written risk assessments for all activities?

No. The aim of the assessment process is to identify the real risks, assess them and record the significant findings. There is no need to assess every aspect of every school trip. Assessments for trivial and fanciful risks are not required. Proportionate systems should be in place, so that trips that present lower risk are quick and easy to organise. Higher-risk activities should be properly planned and assessed.

Will teachers be held liable?

The main duties are on the employer, not teachers or head teachers.

Teachers will only become personally liable if they ignore clear, direct, instructions about serious risks and depart from all common sense. Teachers who try to act responsibly will be on the right side of the law.

What is an adventure activity?

The term adventure activity is broadly defined in the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations 2004, as caving, climbing, trekking or water sports. Providers offering and charging for these types of activities to those under 18 must be licensed. Adventure activities abroad do not have to be licensed.

What are the pupil to staff ratios on school trips?

Pupil to staff ratios for school trips are not prescribed in law. Those planning trips, on the basis of risk assessment, should decide the ratios, taking into account the activity to be undertaken and the age and maturity of the pupils.

What are the supervision requirements for school trips?

Levels of supervision should be determined by school risk assessment for the trip. There should be clear boundaries and clear lines of communication. Remote supervision is considered by DfE to be part of the development programme; it should be phased in gradually because it is important for children to learn to be independent.

Do I have to use an external provider with a Quality Badge?

The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom runs an accreditation scheme for providers. The LOtC Quality Badge recognises providers who offer good-quality learning outside the classroom and manage risk effectively. As part of this process, the Council is working to reduce bureaucracy in schools, while maintaining safety and quality in learning.

The Quality Badge scheme is voluntary and schools are free to use any unbadged provider.

If we use a Quality Badge provider, does that mean we don’t have to do risk assessments for every activity?

The purpose of a risk assessment is to identify sensible ways of managing risks - if those risks are already understood and well managed then a new assessment would add no extra value.

Isn’t there overlap between licensing and the Quality Badge scheme?

  • AALA is a licensing regime under which only certain adventurous activities for children have to be licensed, subject to regular specialist assessment.
  • The Quality Badge Scheme complements the licensing scheme. It aims to demonstrate that an outdoor provider offers high-quality experiences, manages risk effectively and is responsive to the needs of young people.
  • One of the aims of the scheme was to reduce the burdens for teachers organising school trips. The idea is that schools using badged providers know that they are buying into a provider who meets a certified standard in quality of provision as well as safety.

What safety precautions should be taken for school visits to farms?

Those responsible for organising and leading school visits to farms should read Preventing or controlling ill health from animal contact at visitor attractions, and the associated supplement 'Advice to teachers and others who organise visits for children'. This provides guidance on what to do before, during and after visits to minimise the risk of children catching diseases from animals.

What are the procedures for reporting an injury on school trips?

While accidents are rare, they do happen. Employers should have a procedure in place. They should also comply with the requirements of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995.

Special educational needs

What counts as a disability in law?

'Disabled students' includes all students who have a 'physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on that person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities'.  Some specified medical conditions, HIV, multiple sclerosis and cancer are all considered as disabilities, regardless of their effect.

What is the definition of special educational needs (SEN)?

Students have special educational needs if they have a learning difficulty that calls for special educational provision to be made for them or they have a disability which either prevents or hinders them from accessing the educational facilities normally available in their area.  The term SEN does not apply in Scotland; ASN is the term applied in Scotland.

Section 1.3 of the Department for Education (DfE) Special Education Needs: Code of Practice provides a definition for schools in England

Welsh code:

What is the definition of additional support needs (ASN)?

In Scotland, the concept of Additional Support Needs was established under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) Act 2004.  A child or young person may have an additional support need if they would be unable to benefit from school education without the provision of additional support.  An additional support need may arise for any reason, may be of short or long duration, and may relate to a health or disability need, family circumstances, learning environment and social and emotional factors.

Scotland: Supporting Children’s Learning Code of Practice:

What duties do schools and education employers have regarding disability under the Equality Act 2010?

The Act requires education employers to consider whether they have taken ‘reasonable steps’ to alleviate any disadvantage suffered by disabled employees.

What duties do schools and education employers have regarding disability and students under the Equality Act 2010?

Schools and education employers must not harass or discriminate against disabled pupils.

For individual students, they have a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to alleviate them suffering any substantial disadvantage.  This includes supplying auxiliary aids and services: These are known as reasonable adjustments.  In many cases, these will already be in place as a result of a Special Educational Needs (SEN) statement, from other sources, or through additional support planning.

The public sector equality duty places positive obligations on educational establishments – the aim is to prevent problems from arising, rather than dealing with them after they have occurred, when it’s often too late.   Specific guidance for schools is available on the Equality and Human Right’s Commission website at:

What are reasonable adjustments?

The Equality Act 2010 requires education providers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that disabled students can fully participate in the education provided.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has produced specific guidance on reasonable adjustments for disabled students:


Updated 2014-03-25