First aid in schools - How to make a difference

Why is health and safety in schools important? Simple accidents, such as slips or trips, might seem a trivial part of the day-to-day hustle and bustle of school life, but they are capable of causing serious injuries and worse. In one accident recorded on the HSE website, a school canteen employee slipped on some food that had been dropped on the floor of the school dining room. As a result, she broke her leg and later died due to a blood clot. While this is an extreme case, health and safety planning can significantly reduce the chances of outcomes such as this from occurring. This planning can be as simple as ensuring the correct risk assessments are in place, educating staff on how to identify risks or providing first aid training to staff and pupils.

Looking at first aid specifically, should a member of staff, a pupil or a visitor become unconscious, it will take an average of eight minutes for an ambulance to arrive on the scene following an emergency call. By having someone on hand who has the appropriate skills and feels confident enough to use them, emergency first aid can be implemented immediately, potentially saving a life.

Managing health and safety risk in schools
To successfully manage health and safety risks, school management need to remember that their environment is a workplace and therefore has to follow a fixed set of legislative requirements. Many businesses today do not fully appreciate the importance of health and safety, with research indicating that 50% do not have a formal process for assessing first aid needs. The same can be said of schools. If a school has a first aid strategy in place, it might be limited to sending an employee or two to a standard training course, then hoping their skills will not be needed. Although legally schools only have to provide for their staff, they have a duty of care towards their pupils too.

Relevant guidance on the necessary health and safety regulations can be found on the Department of Education and Employment and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) websites, both of which address a range of questions relating to first aid at work. However, it is up to schools and Local Education Authorities (LEAs) to develop their own health and safety strategy, based on an assessment of local need. In addition, the HSE has developed a health and safety checklist specifically for the classroom, which helps schools identify and manage possible risks. For example, schools must make sure they have the minimum first aid provisions, which include having a suitably stocked first aid kit, information for employees on first aid arrangements and a sufficient number of staff trained as first aiders.

To ensure a school is adequately covered, the correct number of staff need to take the appropriate First Aid at Work course. The number of trained first aiders should be based on the number of students and staff in the school. For example, a small primary school with 250 people would need a minimum of three trained first aiders. This does not, however, include cover for planned or unplanned absences, so the school might actually need five or six first aiders if it is to remain covered should illnesses occur.

First aiders who deal with the early primary years will often attend a paediatric course as well that looks specifically at child or infant resuscitation. Schools should also consider Ofsted’s health and safety requirements, many of which may differ from those outlined by the HSE. Both sets of guidance should ideally be taken into account by schools to ensure their environment is health and safety compliant.

First aid for pupils

In a recent Health and Safety Laboratory report of school employees, 97% of respondents rated providing pupils with an appreciation of health and safety risks as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ . A survey in 2011 also showed that 73% of schoolchildren wanted to learn how to resuscitate someone and give first aid.  Despite this, first aid in schools is still not as high up the agenda as it should be.

As well as empowering staff with the confidence to respond in an emergency, extending first aid training to pupils teaches them to care for others, equipping them with skills to be the difference between a life lost and a life saved, inside the school gates and beyond. Research by St John Ambulance showed that 94 per cent of teachers believed first aid lessons in school would help teach young people to be more responsible. Yet, one in three teachers (30.2 per cent) said cost was the biggest obstacle to teaching first aid , especially as it is not strictly part of the national curriculum.

However, there are resources available for teachers that will help them teach pupils first aid at a relatively low cost. For example, packages can be purchased for pre-school and key stage one, two, three and four that come complete with all the resources required (apart from consumables such as bandages), for a minimal cost. These packages can be used by anyone with both a teaching and a first aid qualification. St John Ambulance also has resources which can be downloaded for free on its teaching resource website Teach the Difference ( By ensuring that training is as interactive as possible, and takes into consideration all learning styles, schools can help to encourage first aid knowledge from an early age so that pupils feel inspired to be the difference.

Schools can also arrange for specialist schools trainers to come and deliver courses, such as our own Young First Aider pack. It is designed to provide an introduction to first aid and fits into many subjects of the national curriculum. The course gives students a grounding on how to manage an incident and the most commonly needed first aid skills.

Schools that are breaking the mould
A number of schools around the country are going well beyond the bare minimum by providing first aid training to hundreds of their pupils. These schools can obtain the St John Ambulance Schools Mark, which shows a significant commitment to the safety and health of pupils, the workforce and community. Schools, such as Maidenhill School in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire have trained all students in life saving first aid skills, making their premises safer and also providing students with the ability to help others outside of school hours. Nearly 400 young people took part in the sessions, as part of a health and fitness theme during the school’s annual Activities Week. Training included coping in an emergency, communication, casualty care, how to conduct a primary survey, how to treat an unconscious casualty and resuscitation. These basic life skills will stay with them long after they leave school, and with up to 150,000 people dying each year when first aid could have saved their life, these skills will undoubtedly prove useful later in life .

First aid heroes

For inspirational stories of first aid, you need look no further than schoolgirl Jaipal Basi. When her friend started choking during her lunch break at school, Jaipal leapt into action knowing exactly what to do. Her friend had been eating sandwiches in the canteen at school in Sutton Coldfield, when she started choking on a piece of cucumber. Jaipal, who had been sitting next to her friend, realised that she was struggling to breathe and knew that there was no time to lose.

Using the first aid skills she learnt on a training course the year before, Jaipal, then aged 10, quickly delivered five back blows to try to clear the obstruction. Jaipal was ready to perform abdominal thrusts but after the fifth blow the offending food was dislodged and she was able to breathe again.

Young first aiders such as Jaipal should be celebrated for acting quickly, calmly and effectively during a real emergency, thus proving first aid can be the difference between a life lost and a life saved. Celebrating their success can help raise awareness of the importance of these vital skills and encourage people of all ages to learn them.

The future: where do we go from here?
Schools really should elevate health and safety, and in particular first aid, to a position of prime importance. Having a thorough and well thought out first aid strategy will not only make schools safer, but will also benefit wider communities.

First aid is an important life skill that helps reduce fatalities and enables the faster treatment of injuries. It also has an important role to play in providing staff and pupils with a sense of purpose and achievement, giving them the skills that will potentially save lives.

Further information
For more information about first aid training courses visit and to find out more about free first aid teaching resources visit


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