Renfrew pupils are learning resuscitation techniques as part of their science courses. Douglas Blane investigates
Lifeless bodies strewn across the floor of the science lab at Renfrew High School make the room look like the scene of a serious accident. Yet the pupils who are watching one of their classmates trying to resuscitate a body, and the teacher who is quietly giving instructions, are unperturbed. For the bodies are plastic manikins and the children are learning the skills of emergency life support from a teacher trained by the British Heart Foundation.
"We're the first school in thecountry to become affiliated to the foundation's Heartstart programme," says chemistry principal teacher Elizabeth Fulton. "Since the beginning of last year, we've been teaching emergency life support - chest compressions, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and so on - to the whole of the second year as part of the science course. It fits neatly in to a unit on the heart and blood. We are also teaching it to Standard grade science classes, and we're thinking about including it in PE and social education."
Renfrew High School has a tradition of trying to improve the physical health and well-being of its pupils, but the idea of extending this to provide them with skills to save the lives of others - valuable skills in a country like Scotland with its high rate of heart attacks - arose more recently when the school received a letter from Mary Richardson of the British Heart Foundation.
"Early last year we sent a flyer to every school in the UK," says Mrs Richardson, "telling them about our Heartstart initiative to help set up and support resuscitation training groups in the community. Renfrew High was one of the first schools to respond. We've provided them with a substantial grant for equipment and training for the entire science department. We've supplied manikins, replacement lungs, disinfectant wipes, videos and a set of resource packs containing a modular programme designed specifically for the five to 14 curriculum."
The pupils at Renfrew High have responded well to the lessons. Weeks after completing the course they can still remember the steps to take when a person collapses - how to check for consciousness, pulse and breathing, when to perform resuscitation, which techniques to use.
"I found it fairly easy," says third-year pupil Douglas, "and I enjoyed the lessons. You get a certificate at the end of it, and a card to carry in your pocket to remind you what to do in an emergency."
"At first you had to force yourself to do the mouth-to-mouth breathing on the dummies," says Fiona. "But you soon got used to it, and they're all clean because the teacher disinfects them."
But practising on a plastic manikin in a school lab is one thing, trying to resuscitate a dying person in the street quite another. Would children, no matter how well trained, have sufficient confidence to take control of an emergency situation and apply the skills they have learned?
"Some of them would," says Mrs Fulton, "and even if it's only one, that's one life you wouldn't otherwise have saved. Also, these pupils won't be children for long. In a few years' time they'll have families of their own. So the course includes practice with baby manikins - you can't do hard compressions on a baby, forexample. And although it's not a complete first-aid course, we also teach how to deal with choking or bleeding. What these children are learning now could one day save the lives of their own children."
The course combines theory with a great deal of practice, and every pupil gains experience through acting out a variety of emergency scenarios, such as heart attacks, drowning, electrocution and overdose.
"Our teacher's pack builds it up from age five to 14," says Mrs Richardson. "A five-year-old can recognise an emergency and dial for an ambulance; at age seven or eight they learn the recovery position; and the full programme including cardio-pulmonary resuscitation can begin at age 11. The younger they start to learn these techniques, the better; there have been many examples of kids using them to save someone's life.
"Any school which sets up an ELS programme and affiliates it to Heartstart can apply to us for a grant, and we'll work with them to ensure they get the equipment and that their teachers are well trained," says Mrs Richardson. "But although we provide support and training, the schools are responsible for the actual teaching."
Further information from Mary Richardson, the British Heart Foundation's Heartstart co-ordinator for Scotland and Northern Ireland, tel: 0131 225 1067