Education: Trained to teach children, but not to keep them alive

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The Independent Online
IT WAS every teacher's nightmare. John had been stabbed outside the school gates by local youths with whom he had an argument. He was staggering about, being held up by a friend. There were thick splashes of dark blood on the pavement.

The deputy head and I were the first adults to arrive. She ran to get help, I tried to remember what to do about severe bleeding. I had no first-aid training, only common sense to guide me.

I helped John to lie down. His face was white and he was gabbling and swearing. The blood was oozing through his trousers. I dimly remembered something about getting the wound higher than the heart, and had another pupil hold up his leg. The pupils gathered around us were silent. They knew it was serious and believed in my powers as an adult to help. I was not so confident. John vomited. My hands and clothes were covered in blood. His eyes began to turn upwards.

I realised, with horror, that I didn't know what more to do. I kept talking to John in an attempt to keep him awake, my mind in a total panic. I couldn't even find the wound, let alone stop the bleeding. I thought he might die.

Finally, the school's trained first aider arrived. She found the wound, at the top of John's leg, and stemmed the bleeding until an ambulance arrived. I returned to school, covered in blood and shaking. Later we heard that, despite losing two pints of blood, John would make a complete recovery.

This is obviously an extreme example. Even in these violent times, a stabbing at school is not common. Nevertheless, this was one of four potentially life-threatening incidents I have experienced at school.

I wondered what might have happened if the only trained first aider had not been there that lunchtime. I worried about whether John might have lost a lot of blood as a result of my lack of first-aid knowledge, slowing his recovery. Talking to my colleagues, I realised that many of them had been first on the scene of accidents involving pupils. Few had felt equipped to cope with the incident.

The Health and Safety (First Aid) regulations came into effect in July 1982. These do not apply to non-employees, which includes pupils. While schools have traditionally provided first-aid facilities for pupils, there is no duty for them to do so. The general responsibility of local education authorities and their schools comes under the common law principle of in loco parentis. And, while the approved code of practice under the regulations is flexible, it suggests that a first aider is only required where there are more than 50 employees.

This means that for many schools there is no requirement to have a trained first aider at all, even though there may be hundreds of people on site. If there is no first aider, there is a requirement to have an 'appointed person' to take responsibility for first-

aid equipment.

The Department for Education states that 'it has been a long-standing principle that all teachers should have a basic working knowledge of first aid and for them to be able to recognise situations where medical advice is necessary'. The principle might be encouraged in schools, but a working knowledge of first aid has never featured in my job description or any part of my training.

Most LEAs take the health and safety of pupils seriously and have guidelines for schools under their jurisdiction. Approved first-aid training is run by the British Red Cross and St John Ambulance, and the Health and Safety Executive provides useful guidance leaflets on legislation.

The National Union of Teachers recommends that there should be at least one qualified first aider on school sites, but emphasises that no teacher should be compelled to take on this responsibility.

The Health and Safety at Work Act has recently been updated and came into effect in January. Although first- aid requirements will still apply to employees only, the new regulations will be aimed at improving health and safety management generally. This is a good time to highlight the importance of first-aid training for those who work in schools. Without it, children's lives could be lost.

The writer is a teacher in south London.