Martin Whittaker takes a look at an initiative that not only builds practical skills but also boosts confidence
First aid trainer Andy Lewis holds up two plastic bottles of blood. "Do you member these from last time?" he asks. A ripple of excitement goes around the classroom and hands go up.
The blood is fake of course - it's really food colouring and water - but the messages he is giving this class of teenagers are real enough, as are the life-saving skills.
The students at Severndale School have already learned how to apply bandages, and the blood is to remind them of their last lesson. Today they will learn what to do if they find someone unconscious and how to put them into the recovery position.
First aid training courses have been around for years. But the difference with this course is that it has been adapted for people with disabilities and special needs - part of the British Red Cross Society's campaign to make first aid training more accessible.
Training packs were rewritten, and staff and volunteers have been retrained to teach first aid to children and adults with special educational needs.
Two years ago the Red Cross began to pilot the new courses in schools, youth clubs and further education colleges.
Severndale is a special school in Shrewsbury for children with severe learning difficulties and physical handicaps. In today's session, Andy is working with two groups, one aged 16 to 19, the second 14 to 16, followed by an assembly for all the school's 14 to 19-year-olds.
Assistant head Christine Frazer says the need is greatest among the school's older, more able students who will go on to lead more independent lives.
"Andy has tailored the course to the needs of the students and made it very visual and practical," she says. "By doing that, these students are learning skills that will help equip them for life."
In the first training session, Andy had taught them what first aid is and asked them to represent what they thought about it in drawings. They talked about school staff they knew who were first-aiders, and then looked at how to treat bleeding and burns. For this next stage he uses posters with illustrations of a cartoon doctor - Dr ABC, where D stands for danger, R for response, A for airway, B for breathing and C for circulation.
He demonstrates on Red Cross volunteer Joyce Davies what to do if you find someone lying unconscious on the floor, checking there's no danger to yourself, trying to get a response from her, tilting her head back to make sure her airway is clear and checking her breathing. Having checked that she is breathing, he then shows them how to put her in the recovery position, explaining each step very clearly and carefully.
Afterwards, they all sit around a table with customised worksheets in words and symbols that take them through the process step-by-step. The resource sheets include photographs of someone at each stage of the recovery position, and students are asked to stick them to the sheet in the right order.
Andy constantly asks questions of members of the group and reinforces the training by going back over it, couching everything in terms that all will understand. Finally, the students practise the technique on each other in pairs.
Andy is a former science teacher who gave up school teaching to become a first aid trainer. He now co-ordinates the charity's community first aid programme, working with special needs schools in Herefordshire and neighbouring Shropshire.
He says: "It's really good to see the enthusiasm among not only the students, but also the other trainers. We're not doing first aid by the book - we have to look at different ways we can teach it. It's passing on real skills and looking at different ways they can use those skills to save lives."
Caroline Hattersley, the Red Cross's education diversity manager, says the training for special needs students has been developed as part of the charity's community education programme: "We had become aware that there were large numbers of people with physical disabilities and learning difficulties who had the ability to learn first aid, but weren't given the opportunity.
"We find it's about constantly reinforcing words and using different formats. Within one group we might have students who respond better to verbal training, whereas others will use pictures, so we try and use all ways of communicating.
"It's not just about developing the skill of first aid. It also develops confidence and self-esteem and it helps to enable independent living. The ability to deal with minor accidents in the kitchen is a great contributor to future independence," she adds.
l The British Red Cross doesn't charge special schools for its first aid courses, but it does ask for a donation.
For further information contact Caroline Hattersley Email: CHattersley@redcross.org.uk