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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.

General

Who is accountable for health and safety within a school?

The legal responsibility and thus accountability for health and safety lies with the employer. While this seems straightforward, who the employer is depends on the type of school. There are also differences across England, Scotland and Wales as detailed below.

England and Wales
School type Employer
Community schools The local authority
Community special schools
Voluntary controlled schools
Maintained nursery schools
Pupil referral units
Foundation schools The governing body
Foundation special schools
Voluntary aided schools
Independent schools The governing body or proprietor
England
Academies and free schools The Academy Trust
Scotland
State schools funded through Scottish local authorities The local authority
Independent private or fee-paying schools The proprietor, board of trustees or equivalent
Grant aided schools The governing body, or equivalent,

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

Some schools operate as part of a Public Private Partnership (PPP), Private Finance Initiative (PFI) or Non-Profit Distribution (NPD) arrangement. In these cases teachers, class room assistants and administrative staff are typically employed by the local authority. However some staff in ancillary services, for example catering or cleaning staff, may be employed by the organisation contracted to provide these ancillary services.

Who has responsibility for health and safety where school budgets are delegated to individual schools by a local authority?

In England and Wales school funding arrangements mean that local authorities provide a delegated budget to each of the maintained schools within the authority, so that the school can take control of day to day issues. This means the control of many school activities is delegated to individual schools. However in the case of community schools and voluntary controlled schools the local authority is still the employer and therefore retains legal responsibility as the employer under health and safety law – and retains overall responsibility for the way any work activities are carried out.

Confusion about responsibilities between the local authority and a school can lead to a failure to manage risks.  Local authorities should make clear which health and safety related functions are delegated to governing bodies and therefore require funding through the schools delegated budget and which functions are carried out centrally by the local authority.  The funding arrangements for local authority schools normally make this clear:

  • In England and Wales each local authority’s education funding scheme will define the financial relationship between the authority and schools in its area and set out conditions which a school’s governing body must meet in managing the funds delegated to them. The schemes should have due regard to the local authority’s health and safety responsibilities.
  • In Scotland, local authorities have responsibility for the management of budgets and determine to what extent budgets are further devolved to schools.

Where the local authority is the employer they should ensure the arrangements for managing risks in their schools are sensibly implemented. In practice this will require the local authority to set authority wide health and safety policies and procedures. The local authority will often retain resources to provide strategic input on risk management including:

  • setting of consistent policies and standards,
  • providing competence on strategic and technical issues, and
  • monitoring schools to check polices and procedures are implemented and working.

The local authority also needs to ensure that each of their schools has access to competent health and safety advice. Some local authorities provide this as part of their central function – but where funding is delegated governing bodies may select sources of advice and guidance from other providers - or purchase this as a service from the local authority. Obtaining health and safety advice in this way does not mean that schools can ignore their employer’s health and safety policies.

Where can I get competent advice to manage health and safety in our school?

Health and safety law requires employers to appoint someone competent to help them meet their health and safety duties. A competent person is someone with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to give sensible advice about managing the health and safety risks at the school. This could include one or a combination of sources:

  • direct from the school employer eg a local authority or Academy Trust
  • one or more of the staff at the school eg bursar; head of department, staff members with specialist curriculum knowledge
  • by arranging support from outside the school

In many schools, most risks can be managed by the senior leadership team with the help of staff and the school employer. But if you are not confident, or would welcome some additional advice, guidance on asking the right questions about the support you need is available:

Deciding what help you need is very important. Unless you are clear about what you want, you probably won’t get the help you need.

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.

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: wales.gov.uk/topics/educationandskills/publications/
guidance/specialeduneedscop/
;jsessionid=90E32FF392DA3941CEBD6C02EB9DCF27?lang=en

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.

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.

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Updated 2014-07-03