Teachers condemn health and safety cuts as “reckless”
The lives of children and adults are being put at risk as a result of the Government’s continual proclamations that a more ‘common-sense’ approach to health and safety be taken in schools.
This assertion formed part of a motion carried at the annual conference of the NASUWT – the largest teachers’ union – over the weekend.
The motion slammed the Government’s decision, based on Lord Young’s report in 2010, to redefine schools and colleges as ‘low-risk’ environments – noting that serious health and safety risks exist in schools and colleges, including exposure to work-related stressors, excessive working hours, bullying and harassment, asbestos and excessive temperatures. As a ‘low-risk’ workplace, schools and colleges are likely to encounter fewer health and safety inspections by regulators.
The motion also criticised the dilution of important guidance for schools on a range of matters, including the management of educational visits and pupil behaviour. In respect of the former, it deplored “the misleading claims made by some ministers that teachers have nothing to fear if a pupil dies, or is injured, as a result of participating in educational activity sanctioned by the school and where the teacher has exercised common sense”.
According to Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, the guidance on school trips – which was condensed last year from about 150 pages to a mere eight, as part of the Government’s drive to reduce paperwork and red tape – could not only make teachers more vulnerable to prosecution or civil litigation but actually have the opposite effect of dissuading teachers from undertaking excursions.
“This guidance provided schools and teachers with an important safeguard if things went wrong,” she explained. “The Coalition Government’s decision to sweep away this advice could make teachers more vulnerable.
“Parents will continue to expect schools to act in children’s best interests. Parents should be extremely worried that the Coalition Government’s cost-cutting measures could endanger their children and damage their education.”
Delegates at the conference also backed the union to continue to campaign for:
- legislation that protects the health and well-being of all teachers, support staff and pupils;
- the enforcement of statutory health and safety provisions;
- the publication of guidance on the management of health and safety risks; and
- the reversal of public-sector cuts and austerity programmes, which are, in the union’s view, putting the lives of pupils and teachers at risk.
To coincide with the motion, the NASUWT also released a new report into excessive classroom temperatures, in which it repeats its previous call for a legal maximum workplace temperature.
The survey found that:
- more than three-quarters of teachers experienced classroom temperatures in excess of 24OC on more than a quarter of days during the survey period (four weeks over last summer); and
- a third of teachers experienced classroom temperatures in excess of 30OC at some point during the survey period.
The Government has also consulted on simplifying regulations regarding school premises, such as washroom facilities and light fittings.
In its response to this consultation, NASUWT suggested that the Government’s philosophy of deregulation is jeopardising the “quality of the educational environment and the health, safety and welfare of children, young people and staff”.
SHP is currently awaiting a comment from the Department for Education.