Health and safety in schools

Health and safety in schools


In an article in The Sunday Telegraph Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of Ofsted, said that schools should stop “wrapping their children in cotton wool”, because overzealous health and safety policies are denying them the chance to develop “resilience and grit”.

We couldn’t agree more.

RoSPA’s mantra is “teaching safely, teaching safety”. We need to make sure that children are safe in school, but that they receive enough of a challenge to learn meaningful life lessons. There’s a fine balance to be achieved when exposing children to controlled risk and challenge which helps them develop their full potential; we recognise the problems this poses to schools and how difficult it can be to convince others that risk has been properly considered and adequately controlled.

Marcus Bailie, head of inspection at the Adventure Activities Licensing service and member of RoSPA’s National Safety Education Committee, works with this issue every day and understands that schools and adults often worry about exposing children to real risks. However, both schools and adults are much more likely to want children to be challenged. Challenges can be defined as:

  • involving a chance for gain or benefit
  • involving a risk or loss or harm
  • progressively entered into
  • willingly entered into
  • going outside the comfort zone
  • involving at least some degree of uncertainty of outcome.

However, some schools are already meeting the issue head-on, providing students with valuable practical activities within the curriculum in which they learn to deal with risks: encouraging school trips, inviting local communities into school to share experiences and understanding, and getting children out into the natural environment and the ‘real world’. For those that would like to do more, but aren’t sure where the boundaries of risk, liability, fun and challenge are, there is help and advice available.

There’s a clear case for getting children out and active, and not overprotecting or wrapping them in cotton wool. The current generation of pupils face a host of health challenges linked to inactivity, with rising levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, so the benefits of well-managed out of school activity and physical challenges are clear. Young people aged 16-23 are also the most at-risk in the UK’s workforce, and many children lack basic life and health skills such as being able to swim. Schools are ideally placed to provide environments where children can experience and assess risks.

To help schools achieve this, we believe that government should make personal, social and health education (PSHE) lessons, which must include elements of personal safety, compulsory across the country. This would ensure that teachers and other staff would receive the right levels of support and training, and that such activities are being carried out in a consistent and structured way.

While some schools may feel constrained by fears related to health and safety, it is important to keep in mind that legal requirements and good practice are there for a reason – to keep people safe while carrying out worthwhile activities. However, it is important that schools continue to provide appropriately-challenging activities.

For more information, advice and resources, see

Posted: 11/08/2017 10:22:35 1 comments


11/08/2017 12:08:05

Dr Michael C Watson

I fully agree. Compulsory PSHE is needed for all schools. Safety needs to be an important element. Teachers, school nurses and other staff will need support.

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