Health & Safety: A potential hurdle for schools seeking academy status
Monday 9th January 2012
Many school management teams do not realise that once they have academy status they become responsible for their own health and safety regime. Here we look at the challenges facing schools during this transition, and the dangers of getting it wrong…
Becoming an academy comes with many new freedoms – increased flexibility over the curriculum, over pay structures, the school calendar and, of course, budgets. In short, academies are allowed to exercise a number of freedoms that would previously have fallen under local authority control. On the plus side, this gives academies less bureaucracy to wade through, but with freedom comes responsibility too.
Many academies do not realise, for instance, that they can no longer rely on support from the local authority for such core services as special educational needs, human resources and payroll support. The same is true, crucially, of health and safety.
Living without the local authority
What does this mean for schools converting to academy status? For a start, no routine health and safety inspections, no fire risk assessments and no standard First Aid courses for staff. These will have to be organised and funded by the academy. They can be obtained from the local authority at an agreed rate, or from an alternative provider. The school’s governing body will also have to provide oversight for the provision of these services.
Maintained schools, those under local authority control, are protected by Education (School Premises) Regulations, better known by the acronym ESPRs. These cover everything from school facilities to the structural requirements of school buildings. Academies, however, are only covered by the Education (Independent School Standards), which treats health and safety in far less detail.
Health & safety: silencing the critics
It is vital, therefore, that schools organise themselves appropriately to ensure that any transition to academy status carries appropriate provisions for health and safety. Health and safety is a major sticking point among the most vocal critics of academies. The NUT teachers’ union, for instance, has noted: “There are plenty of strong arguments to be deployed as to why health and safety could be adversely affected by conversion to academy status, arguments which could prove persuasive to both teachers and parents.”
Academies, therefore, need to do their utmost to ensure levels of compliance at least equivalent to those of maintained schools. To achieve this there are a number of steps that new academies will need to take to ensure they meet national regulations, including the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.
Steps towards a health & safety regime
Buzzacott HR Consultancy can assist academies to put in place appropriate health and safety regimes with regard to:
- Identifying and implementing adequate cover in the event of injury or illness.
- Management and monitoring of health and safety obligations.
- Provision of advice on training for key personnel.
The risk of getting health and safety wrong carries profound implications for the staff as well as the students. Not only in terms of their welfare and wellbeing - it means that the perceived success of an academy may ultimately rest less on factors such as exam results, and more on the successful resolution of these structural challenges.