Teachers are not obliged to administer medication to pupils. But if you volunteer, make sure you get the right training and support, writes Susannah Kirkman "A pupil in my class has a severe allergy to peanuts and my headteacher says I have to administer an EpiPen in an emergency. Do I have to do it? Will I be liable if something goes wrong?" This is the most common query the Association of Teachers and Lecturers receives from its members.
The ATL says that teachers are increasingly being called on to give medication to pupils; the number of children with anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction to food such as nuts, fish and dairy products, is rising, while the number of school nurses is dwindling. Other pupils who need medication include epileptics, asthmatics, diabetics and those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Teachers are not contractually obliged to give medication, or even supervise pupils taking it. A head can ask staff to volunteer but must respect their decision if they refuse.
Parents have the main responsibility for their child's health, and should write to the head, with their GP or paediatrician, giving information about any conditions; ideally, the school needs to know before the pupil is enrolled. If parents ask the school to administer medication, you can volunteer and are entitled to support from the parents and head, as well as information and training, according to Department for Education and Skills guidelines.
The employer, usually the governing body or the LEA, has a legal duty to produce a written up-to-date health and safety policy with procedures for managing and administering medication. If you follow them - and your training - when giving medicine, it would be difficult to prove negligence if something went wrong. You should be covered by your employer's public liability insurance. The ATL says legal action has never succeeded when a teacher has given medical assistance to a pupil "in good faith".
To be on the safe side, follow this advice:
* ensure you receive appropriate training from a medically qualified person;
* ask your employer to confirm, in writing, that its insurance fully indemnifies staff against alleged negligence claims;
* think before volunteering to administer injections or rectal diazepam - you may risk allegations of assault or sexual abuse. Two adults should be present, one of them the same sex as the pupil;
* check that there are enough trained staff to cover for you when you are away;
* avoid taking pupils to hospital in your own car unless you have public liability vehicle insurance. Allegations of negligence may be made if an ill pupil is not supervised during the journey. Take another adult with you;
* on a trip, include staff trained to administer medication. Or ask the pupil's parent along.
For further information, try the DfES guidance, Supporting Pupils with Medical Needs, available free from DfES publications, tel: 0845 6022260