Scottish Borders has reacted vigorously to tougher health and safety regulations for young people on work experience by abandoning this term's placements. The council wants to ensure procedures are watertight before it sanctions a restart.
Some councils are less convinced about the threat but others, supported by headteachers, fear European regulations that came into force in March, supported by the Conservative government, may jeopardise the whole work-experience programme.
John Christie, Borders' director of education, said the regulations were "causing us some concern". Mr Christie added: "We need to take some responsibility to ensure employers are carrying out risk assessments." The council is speedily drawing up guidelines for schools and hopes to clarify the position for the next set of placements in September.
Mr Christie takes issue with Scottish Office advice issued last month. "The guidelines say there are no implications for work experience but that is unrealistic," he said.
Alistair Johnston, headteacher of Kelso High and president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said: "It is causing us problems and there is tremendous disappoint ment among pupils and parents. It will be a problem getting things going again."
Sue Angus, depute director of education in East Ayrshire, echoed the concerns but said work-experience programmes were continuing while the confusion surrounding the regulations was cleared up. In partnership with South and North Ayrshire councils, East Ayrshire wants to appoint a small team, including a health and safety officer, to direct future placements. Around 750 employers in Ayrshire are on the current register.
Ms Angus said: "We have got to satisfy ourselves that all reasonable steps are being taken for the safety of pupils. If we did not do that work experience could fall away." She believed heads and parents would have to be assured about safety.
Virtually all councils have had to rethink work-experience arrangement s. Margaret Doran, head of services to schools in Stirling, said that while the onus was on employers councils had a responsibility to check what action was taken.
Jim Anderson, director of education in Angus, said all new placements would be scrutinised by council health and safety officers but he did not believe work experience was in jeopardy.
Dermot Dick, chief executive of Career Development Edinburgh and Lothian, said only a small minority of employers were known to have temporarily withdrawn because of the regulations. Work experience generally had a good health and safety record.
A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said the European regulations were "not insuperable". A working group is examining the implications.
Scottish Office advice to councils, which they received just over two weeks ago, maintains that employers already complying with health and safety legislation "should not find the new requirements burdensome" and that the new regulations "do not introduce new requirements on organisers of work experience".
John Grubb, a senior official with the Health and Safety Executive, said the principle behind the Health and Safety (Young Persons) Regulations 1997 was to ensure the safety of young workers who were particularly at risk due to their inexperience, lack of awareness of potential risks and immaturity.
The Scottish Office is to publish further guidelines in the autumn.