Alex Wilkins at iHASCO advises how the education sector can keep up to date with health and safety practices
Pressure for excellence in an education setting seems to be exponentially rising every year. Upholding a high-quality standard of work may seem like an issue only students face in this environment, however, the educators’ performance is also frequently put under the microscope. From government policies to rising expectations of school boards and parents alike, educators have faced increasing scrutiny in the workplace.
In an attempt to meet the overwhelming demands from onlookers, goals such as the need to dominate league tables, reduce spending, win awards and improve grades are majorly over-emphasised and basic training can be completely disregarded.
Unfortunately, this can result in serious consequences.
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 safer 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.
Up to date training
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.
The first is, are we training and refreshing our training to sufficiently high standards? The second is, if we are asked to prove and document our health and safety training, can we demonstrate compliance to the required standard? 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.
The focus on 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. 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.
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.
Additionally, the training of new staff may be ignored, which is a potential issue as their background may have not included the relevant training. This could be due to various reasons ranging from being newly qualified to their previous workplace having different priorities. Adding in those with out of date training, this may leave a whole team of staff without the necessary qualifications to provide adequate health and safety.
Yet, failing to comply with these standards could lead to harmful oversights.
Therefore, the importance of working with a provider that can meet the demands of education-specific training needs through captivating, video-based eLearning is vital. Furthermore, modern eLearning providers can take away the worry of monitoring and demonstrating legal compliance. By using innovative learning management systems that automate this time taking and conventionally tedious process, eLearning providers help tackle the momentous pressure placed on schools and colleges alike.