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First aid in schools

What is first aid?

First aid is the initial, immediate help that is given to someone who suffers an injury or illness. In the case of minor injuries and illnesses, first aid may be sufficient. In more serious or life-threatening situations, first aid should be given until medical treatment is available. Correctly administered first aid can be the difference between life and death.

The aim of first aid is also known as the three Ps:

  • Promote recovery.
  • Prevent the situation from worsening.
  • Preserve life.

First aid is generally performed by someone with first aid training. In more serious situations, first aid should be performed until a medical professional arrives. Performing first aid quickly could save a person’s life.

There are many situations that may require first aid.

Some common accidents and emergencies you should be prepared for are:

  • Anaphylactic shock.
  • Cuts, bleeding, and blood loss.
  • Burns and scalding.
  • Choking.
  • Head injuries.
  • Injuries such as sprains, fractures, and breaks.
  • Muscle and joint injuries.
  • Asthma attacks.
  • Unconsciousness or unresponsiveness.
  • Fainting, collapsing and seizures.
  • Poisoning.
  • Shock.
  • Incidents that require CPR.
Young girl practising first aid on toy

Why is first aid important in schools?

School-age children are generally at higher risk of being involved in accidents and sustaining injuries. Although many of these injuries are likely to be relatively minor, in some cases a child or young person could sustain a serious or life-threatening injury on school premises.

Furthermore, illnesses and health conditions can be much more serious in children compared to adults. Performing first aid can help to reduce the seriousness of a situation, prevent injuries and illnesses from worsening and even save a life.

The majority of injuries sustained in schools occur during physical activities and other outdoor exercises.

Below are some statistics that demonstrate how important first aid is in schools.

  • On average, 400,000 young people are injured in the UK at school every year.
  • 270 children and young people die in school every year as a result of a cardiac arrest.
  • According to the Red Cross, only 5% of adults have the knowledge and confidence to provide first aid in emergency situations.
  • The HSE reported that there were 1,668 major injuries to teachers and other employees in schools in one year.

The health and safety of all students and staff should be of paramount importance.

Equipping teachers and other school staff with first aid skills and knowledge is vital for the following reasons:

  • It helps prevent conditions from worsening – First aid acts as a temporary treatment until further medical intervention can be sought. Effective first aid can help prevent serious situations from worsening. The first aider can use skills and techniques they have learnt in their training to keep the child stable and prevent the situation from deteriorating.
  • It increases feelings of security for students and staff – The knowledge that both students and staff will have access to support and treatment in the event of an emergency can create a sense of security for all members of the school community.
  • It preserves life – Preserving life is one of the three aims of first aid. Those with first aid treatment have the skills and knowledge to help save lives in the event of an emergency. A first aider will also know the importance of contacting 999 as quickly as possible in life-threatening situations and will have important knowledge of the recovery position and CPR. First aiders are also much more likely to remain calm and respond quickly.
  • It meets legal requirements (Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974) – Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (1974), an employer is responsible for ensuring the school has a health and safety policy. This must include first aid arrangements and risk assessments that show who the first aiders are, where first aid supplies are stored and any other first aid arrangements.
  • Fast treatment – Having access to first aid means you also have access to fast treatment. This helps to reduce the likelihood of an injury or illness having long-term implications. Many injuries sustained in schools will not require any further medical treatment because first aid was performed effectively.
  • It reduces the likelihood of an accident occurring – Knowledge of first aid can make it easier for staff members to identify potential hazards. It also highlights the importance of conducting a risk assessment and how to effectively implement any actions or recommendations from the risk assessment. This can reduce the likelihood of accidents occurring on school premises.
Boy talking about his mental health

Mental health first aid

Mental health first aid is a branch of first aid that is often overlooked. However, with the rise of mental ill health and mental health difficulties faced by children and young people today, mental health first aid is an important branch of first aid for school staff to be aware of and trained in.

According to The Children’s Society, 1 in 6 children and young people aged 5-16 are likely to have a mental health problem. Furthermore, 55% of young people aged 16-25 said that they had visited their GP about a mental health difficulty at some point in their lives.

Mental health first aid helps introduce school staff to the risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems in adolescents. It teaches the importance of identifying the issue, the importance of early intervention and how to help a young person who is in crisis. Mental health first aid is particularly recommended in secondary schools. For more information about mental health first aiders, consult our knowledge base.

Where can I complete my first aid training?

Although first aid courses can be completed online, it is always recommended to take part in a face-to-face course – especially where children are concerned. In fact, you are required to take part in at least 6 hours of face-to-face learning hours for emergency paediatric first aid and a minimum of 6 hours of face-to-face learning hours for paediatric first aid.

When organising first aid training for school staff, it is important to ensure the course meets the minimum requirements for face-to-face learning. The course should also be in line with the Ofsted Early Years and Childcare Register.

All school staff should have at least a basic level of first aid training.

Schools should have an appointed member of staff who acts as the overseer. This person may not necessarily administer first aid treatment.

The appointed member of staff will:

  • Take charge when a person is injured or ill.
  • Ensure first aid equipment is stocked and frequently replenished. For more information about first aid kit requirements, consult our knowledge base.
  • Ensure that an ambulance or other medical professionals are contacted when necessary.

All qualified first aiders must hold a valid certificate issued by an organisation that has been approved by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). As standard first aid courses often do not include resuscitation procedures for children, a paediatric course or a course designed specifically for school staff is recommended.

Finding a course that is in line with government guidelines is relatively easy. Many of the first aid course providers in your area should provide courses designed specifically for people who work with children and young people.

St John Ambulance offers a variety of first aid courses for schools across the UK. Their course options include Emergency Paediatric First Aid, Blended Paediatric First Aid and Anaphylaxis First Aid.

Teachers learning first aid in school

First aid training for pupils

In 2020, the Department for Education (DfE) confirmed that all state-funded schools in England must include basic first aid and CPR training as part of the curriculum. First aid will now be included as part of children’s health education. The first aid training will vary depending on the age of the students.

Primary school students will be taught:

  • Basic first aid skills for common injuries, including head injuries.
  • How to contact emergency services.

Secondary school students will be taught:

  • Basic first aid for common injuries and illnesses.
  • Important life-saving skills, such as how to perform CPR.
  • When and how to use a defibrillator.

First aid can be taught to students by a trained first aider. However, it is recommended that teachers undertake specific training to refresh their own first aid skills and learn how to effectively teach first aid to students. Courses that train school staff in teaching first aid will ensure they are confident in performing first aid and can deliver the training to students effectively. Teachers should aim for the lessons to be fun, engaging, and effective.

In order to deliver first aid training lessons, the school will likely need to invest in equipment. This could include:

  • Resuscitation manikins for secondary schools.
  • Bandages and dressings.

The DfE has created requirements for teaching first aid as part of health education to different Key Stages. First aid teaching resources and lesson plans are available online to help ensure your school is meeting the requirements.

Teaching resources and lesson plans are available online for schools to access. St John Ambulance has created teaching pathways for Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11), Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14) and Key Stage 4 (ages 14-16). The teaching pathways include a recommended order for teaching first aid topics, posters, lesson plans and other first aid resources.

Man teaching first aid in schools

Why is it important to teach first aid in schools?

Up until 2020, it was not a legal requirement to teach first aid in schools. In fact, the majority of schools in the UK included no first aid training whatsoever in their curriculum.

With important organisations such as the British Heart Foundation and the Resuscitation Council campaigning for a number of years for first aid to become part of the school curriculum, it was the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017 that finally convinced the government to take action. Lord Kerslake’s inquiry found that even though the public acted courageously in the aftermath of the bomb, they lacked the requisite first aid skills. He recommended that first aid should be taught in all schools in the country in the future.

Teaching first aid in schools could help to save thousands of lives. Below are some statistics relating to first aid:

  • Over 300,000 cardiac arrests occur out of hospital every year in the UK. Of these 300,000 people, fewer than 1 in 10 survive.
  • The British Red Cross stated that up to 59% of deaths from injuries could have been prevented, had first aid been carried out.
  • The British Red Cross also stated that knowledge of first aid training could reduce the number of visits to Accident & Emergency (A&E) departments and relieve some of the pressure on the NHS.
  • A quarter of young people have had to deal with asthma attacks and a third of young people have had to deal with a head injury, even if they have had no first aid training. First Aid for Life found that in these situations, 44% of young people said they panicked and 46% said they did not know what to do.

Teaching first aid to students can not only keep them and their peers safer in school, but it can also help them to promote recovery, prevent the situation from worsening and preserve life out of school. Teaching first aid to children and young people will mean that as they grow into adults, we will hopefully live in a society where fewer unnecessary deaths occur.

First aid kit

What does first aid training in schools involve?

As previously discussed, first aid training in schools will differ depending on the age of the students.

Some basic skills that will be taught to students include:

  • How to contact emergency services and how to effectively explain the situation.
  • The importance of checking the safety of the area and how to do this.
  • How to stay calm and think clearly.
  • The importance of speaking to the patient and keeping them alert.
  • How to get details of the illness or injury.
  • How to treat cuts, scrapes, bleeding, and blood loss. This will also include how to apply pressure to a bleeding wound.
  • How to treat burns.
  • How to apply a bandage.
  • How to deal with a sprain, fracture, or break.
  • CPR training.
  • What to do in the case of a head injury.
  • What to do in the case of an allergic reaction.
  • What to do in the case of a nose bleed.

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About the author

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Nicole graduated with a First-Class Honours degree in Psychology in 2013. She works as a writer and editor and tries to combine all her passions - writing, education, and psychology. Outside of work, Nicole loves to travel, go to the beach, and drink a lot of coffee! She is currently training to climb Machu Picchu in Peru.



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