Education Quandary: 'I have been asked by my school to look into how we can teach first aid, and am very anxious to get any advice right'

Hilary's advice

A survey carried out by the charity St John Ambulance shows that seven out of 10 schoolchildren would not know how to offer help in an emergency, and although first aid is a mandatory part of the curriculum for Welsh and Northern Irish pupils, it is still only optional in England and Scotland. So congratulations to your school for deciding to do this now, two years ahead of the target date to make it compulsory.

In an area like this, go straight to the experts. St John Ambulance offers a teaching resource pack which has so far been used to teach 300,000 children first-aid skills. The British Red Cross also offers an easy-to-use kit (see below) designed for 11- to 14-year-olds but suitable for other age groups as well. Its research shows that young people are woefully unprepared when it comes to knowing how to put an unconscious person into the recovery position, and that many would deal with a knife wound in ways that would make it worse not better.

Current curriculum guidance says that secondary-age pupils should be taught ways of handling risky situations and how to use basic and emergency first aid, such as the recovery position and resuscitation techniques. And, just in case you are worrying about the consequences of any first aid being wrongly administered, legal advice is that it is unlikely a successful claim could be brought against any first-aider trying to do their best.

Readers' advice

We know that teachers want to teach first aid, but often don't know how. We suggest starting out by asking students about situations they've been in when they wished they'd known what to do, and showing them how simple first-aid techniques are to learn. Our "Life. Live It" kit ( uk/lifeliveit) includes presentations and videos, and makes learning first aid fun and interactive, and you don't have to be first aid qualified to use it.

Henry Makiwa, British Red Cross, London EC2

All children and adults should be taught what to do in an emergency. I was in the street when a man had an epileptic fit and no one out of all the people who crowded round him knew what to do. Afterwards, I found a first-aid course which made me realise how many situations there are where basic first aid could save a life – and how we ought to know it.

Gilly Whitney, Reading

Children need to know first aid, but as a teacher I know there are child protection issues to consider. To teach first aid properly means hands-on demonstrations, but most of us would run a mile from this these days. I don't think people outside schools realise how bad the situation has become, or how careful we have to be about getting into any situation that could be interpreted wrongly. It hampers so many aspects of good teaching.

Mark Easton, Southampton