Between a risk and a downright hazard

29th November 1996 at 00:00
New regulations from Brussels mean that every school now needs a risk-assessment strategy. Such an exercise can bring great benefit to all areas of the school as well as highlighting the problem zones.


At first glance Two Trees High School's annual awards ceremony might not seem to have a great deal to do with health and safety. But, according to Peter Britton, the school's health and safety co-ordinator, the prizegiving has been a huge success in helping to promote pupil well-being.

Pupils win book tokens or certificates not just for sport and academic work but for a host of other reasons such as behaviour, progress, community help, or for minority sports and interests. Hardly anyone walks away emptyhanded. Peter Britton says the event is well attended by parents who are genuinely delighted by the recognition. "It's joyful to see how happy parents can be when told their children are good," he says. "When the media is full of stories about naughty kids, people forget that schools can be happy places."

A mixed secondary in Denton, Greater Manchester, Two Trees High School has put health and safety near the top of its agenda. It is one of around 20 designated European Health Promoting Schools that receive a grant of Pounds 3,500 from the Health Education Authority. The money pays for the prizegiving, staff training and a programme of training pupil volunteers as peer-group counsellors or intermediaries, enabling them to offer a listening ear and practical advice to friends in need.

The school also runs a health and safety module as part of its personal and social development (PSD) programme for tutor groups in all years. The combination of health promotion and teaching health and safety has created a "whole-school" approach that is raising the awareness of staff,governors and pupils.

The results are hard to assess, though staff talk of improved morale and reduced truanting. The National Foundation for Educational Research is surveying the school for three years to evaluate the effect on pupil attitudes. Certainly pupils in PSD do not feel inhibited about tackling issues such as anti-social behaviour, bullying, under-age sex or drugs Tutors teaching PSD have placed the emphasis on present behaviour patterns - both in and out of school - in terms of risk assessment. According to Peter Britton, pupils learn to accept responsibility for their actions and try to understand the consequences. He says: "It's learning to tell the difference between a risk and a downright hazard."

Peter Britton is producing the school's risk-assessment policy, something all workplaces are now required to produce by law. It will take 18 months to complete. He explains that it is a question of gathering together safe working practices and documentation that already exists. "It's a drawing together of best practice but it might also raise issues and costs we hadn't considered previously."

Besides work in individual curriculum areas, Two Trees devotes time and resources to important health and safety issues. A whole day was recently given over to combating bullying. In year 11, the issue revolved around the world of work and technology. Staff and local employers, members of the school's business-education partnership, gave presentations and chaired working parties on how sexism and racism are tackled in the workplace and the mechanisms for reporting grievances.

Substance abuse is tackled in different ways in the various year groups. Younger children are asked to consider the effects of alcohol and tobacco, while older age groups learn about the misuse of Ecstasy and hard drugs. The school runs workshops for parents and works with a local youth worker. As the deputy head, Shay Towey, says "The basis on which we approach it is giving pupils accurate information so that they can make sensible choices."

The other big area of health and safety, of course, relates to the school building. A leaky roof produces dampness which is a health hazard; unchecked, the leak could weaken ceilings, causing plaster to fall - a safety hazard. Most accidents are the result of slips and trips. Peter Britton is responsible for reporting building defects to the site manager: loose tiles, uneven or slippery floors or anything that could harm pupils.

As a member of the senior management team, Peter Britton sees his responsibility for health and safety as complementing, his other role: discipline. "Pupil behaviour and health and safety is a natural fit. It's not an add-on," he says.

But there are some safety hazards and behaviour he cannot do much about. The building is too small for its present roll. Designed in the 1950s as a secondary modern for 600 pupils, the raising, of the school-leaving age and migration from Manchester to the suburbs has virtually doubled Two Trees' population. The original building was never intended to cope with today's traffic. Staff patrols enforce corridor discipline and, after school, staff have to ensure pupils do not run straight out on to a busy main road. It is a precaution that has so far prevented any accidents.

Next on the agenda, Two Trees is planning its staff health awareness inservice-training day. Teachers will receive individual health checks for weight and blood pressure and are enrolled for a stress management workshop.

It is easy to forget how tiring running a safe school is. Shay Towey says: "Staff sickness is not a big issue here but we have spent so much time on the pupils we're balancing it out with some attention to the staff."

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