Some two and a half years ago, I read a professional magazine article  entitled ‘Schools – Health and safety management – The blackboard bungle?‘.
It raised questions about the way schools were coming out of local authority control and were there sufficient health and safety measures in place. At that time (June 2013) there were some 2,900 academies out of local authority control.
The article contained such revelations as “As many as 10 per cent of academies do not have sufficient policies or procedures in place for health and safety”. Also, that at a School Business Managers Conference in March 2013, it was revealed that one academy manager was under the gross misapprehension that the school’s insurance policy would cover any costs in the event of a prosecution. I would have thought their priority would be the children in their care, not who paid the bill for any failings!
Considering that many larger academies might have up to 2,000 pupils and 200 staff, you have to wonder why some senior staff are exhibiting the health and safety awareness of a typical sole trader or start up enterprise?
Some academies, particularly former local authority schools, will undoubtedly be ‘buying-in’ health and safety services from the local authority, but as those authorities trim down to be within ever decreasing budgets and the onus is on the academy to ask for support, how proactive will this service be?
How many school (academy) governors realise that as individuals, they can be prosecuted for health and safety breaches at their school?
In recent months, the selection of criminal cases involving school health and safety fails has been quite enlightening.
Perhaps the most significant being Bristol Cathedral Choir School , which was fined a total of £26,000 [£8,000 for the section 2 offence and £18,000 for the section 3 offence]  and ordered to pay £12,176 costs. Their failing relating to a chemistry laboratory technician, who lost parts of three fingers and sustained a serious bowel injury while preparing a highly sensitive explosive for use in a ‘fireworks’ demonstration to a class of children.
But we have also seen contractors falling from school roofs, and children injured while undertaking sporting activities. Whilst that might seem par for the course, merely a ‘sporting injury’, when it’s a preventable fall from a climbing wall or being hit by a Shot Put on a sports field, you have to wonder what’s going on…
As of January 2016, there are now some 5,100 Academies and a further 380 Free Schools. That’s a 75% increase since I originally read that article, just 30 months ago.
My own children are far beyond school age, but with my first grandchild fast approaching her first day at school, I have to wonder where the government’s drive towards greater deregulation and decentralisation will take us.
Meanwhile dear reader, perhaps I’ve given you food for thought next time you go near a school…
1 – http://www.shponline.co.uk/schools-health-and-safety-management-the-blackboard-bungle
2 – http://press.hse.gov.uk/2016/school-in-court-over-science-experiment-injury/
3 – Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, Section 2 (safety of Employees) and Section 3 (safety of persons other than employees, i.e. the pupils)