Monday, 6 June 2016

Don't Swelter in School!

Reprinted from last summer: guidance on high temperature in schools !

The summer heatwave is approaching- but many teachers find themselves teaching in classrooms that are uncomfortably hot.  High classroom temperatures are a major health and safety issue, not just for NUT members but for the children we teach.

You may have been told that "there is no maximum classroom temperature in law."  While this is true in the sense that there is not a given figure (as there is for minimum temperatures)  there is a clear responsibility on employers under the law to ensure reasonable working temperatures.
  • The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their staff and others present in the workplace (e.g. pupils), thereby providing a need to seek to protect against excessive working temperatures.
  • Regulation 7 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 requires employers to ensure that temperatures in workplaces should be 'reasonable' although it does not specify a maximum reasonable temperature.
  • If people get too hot, they risk dizziness, fainting, or even heat cramps.  In very hot conditions the body’s blood temperature rises.  If the blood temperature rises above 39°C, there is a risk of heat stroke or collapse.  Delirium or confusion can occur above 41°C.  Blood temperatures at this level can prove fatal and even if people recover, they may suffer irreparable organ damage. Even at the lower temperatures likely to be experienced in classrooms, however, heat leads to a loss of concentration and increased tiredness, which means that teachers are more likely to put themselves or others at risk.
These legal requirements can be enforced by HSE health and safety inspectors who may issue legally binding notices to employers obliging them to comply with the requirements.

NUT policy, as agreed at Annual Conference 2007 (where it was proposed by Dave Brinson on behalf of the Lewes, Eastbourne and Wealden Association) , is that 26°C should be the absolute maximum temperature in which teachers should be expected to work, other than for very short periods.  It is important that all schools have in place contingency plans to help staff and pupils cope with the heat.  There is little that can be done to alleviate particular problems if schools do not plan in advance and also take note of the weather forecast for the week ahead.

What can my school do ?

The following measures could be implemented by schools to address the health and safety issues of high temperature:

  • Redesigning the work area: Often simply moving people away from windows, or reducing heat gain by installing reflective film or blinds to windows can be a very effective way of keeping a workplace cooler.
  • The  installation of fans or natural ventilation: Providing fans or windows that open can also help staff and pupils to cool down, although both these become less effective at higher temperatures.  Portable air-cooling cabinets are also available, which are much more effective.
  • Curtailing of certain heat-generating activities, for example, use of computers, Bunsen burners, ovens, design and technology equipment, strenuous physical activity in PE lessons etc; unless effective heat extraction measures can be put in place.
  • Provision of water coolers, and  permission to be given for pupils to drink water in classrooms.  (The NUT is in fact in favour of this at all times of the year).
  • Reallocation of classes to cooler rooms whenever possible.
  • Relaxation of dress codes for staff and pupils.
  • Ensuring that windows can be safely opened.
  • Installation of blinds and/or reflective film on windows.
  • Use of portable air conditioning units in the worst affected classrooms/staff room (although these can be noisy).
  • Provision of suitably-sized fans for those rooms which are not so badly affected.
  • Timetabling sports days for earlier in the summer term.
  • Consideration of the needs of pregnant teachers who will feel the effects of the heat more acutely than anyone else and may, for example, need to be excused playground duty.
  • Starting and finishing school early, provided that adequate notice has been given to parents.
The requirement to take ‘all reasonable steps’ means that employers cannot use cost as an excuse, other than where the measures would be disproportionately expensive.  In the longer term, schools should also consider: 
  • Development of shady areas over time, either through planting of trees or the construction of shelters in playgrounds.
  • Introducing a properly designed air conditioning system into the building: In some buildings this is not possible, either because of the age or type of the building, or because of planning restrictions.  A properly maintained air conditioning system is a very effective way of reducing temperatures.  However, air conditioning systems are expensive and do use a very high level of power and other, more environmentally friendly, solutions should also be considered.
If you are experiencing problems with excessive classroom temperature, your NUT Rep, or NUT Health and Safety rep should make representations to the Head Teacher straight away- in the knowledge that they are backed by both their Union and the law !   You can also contact the East Sussex NUT Office on 01323 643770 or by email.

You can read the full NUT Briefing on High Classroom Temperatures by clicking here.

If your school does not have an NUT Health and Safety Rep, why not consider becoming one ?  Health and Safety reps have a range of roles and powers protected by law, and a statutory right to paid time off for training- which is provided free of charge by the Union. Contact us for more information. 

Monday, 30 May 2016

Could YOU be an NUT School Safety Rep ?

Safety representatives” are trade union representatives appointed by NUT members to represent their interests on health and safety issues.  The law gives them a range of statutory rights and powers. 

School NUT reps can also take the role of official health and safety rep, but we strongly encourage different members to take on this role, to support their school rep who already has a significant job to do !

NUT Safety Reps provide a vital service for members, and are often highly valued by the management of schools for their input and work on behalf of members.  However union safety representatives are  distinguished from “safety co-ordinators” or “safety officers” appointed by employers or managers to help them carry out their health and safety responsibilities:  union safety representatives are not accountable to employers or managers, only to union members.

If you are appointed as an NUT rep, you have a statutory right to paid time off for training, and there are three options open to you:-
There is an all-expenses paid residential course for Health and Safety reps run at Stoke Rochford Hall over 5 days. This has been described as the "Rolls Royce" of training, and provides full accreditation as a workplace rep. Members who are able to commit to this course are strongly encouraged to apply- those who have done it are always really impressed by the level of training and support !  Schools that buy into the full personnel service from ESCC will be able to claim back the cost of supply cover for this.


1) Speak to your NUT School Rep (unless that's you!) and your NUT colleagues at school, and ask if they would be happy to elect/endorse you as the school Health and Safety Rep.

2) Sign up for a place on the 5 day course by clicking here 

3) Contact the East Sussex NUT Division, and we will help you make the arrangements with your school. E-mail us here.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Flooding alert !

The regularity of severe flooding in recent years means that unfortunately this is one of the contingencies for which schools need to plan.  Schools/colleges may be affected but also members’ homes and the journey between home and work.

A new briefing from the Union  sets out advice on steps to take when floods are threatened, when the worst happens, and also on dealing with the aftermath.  Employers have a legal duty to protect the health and safety of staff and pupils and no-one should risk their health, or their life, during a flood or during the clean-up process.

Where a flood warning has been issued in respect of the local area, school management prepares for the eventuality as thoroughly as possible, including by:

  1. listening out for local news reports, updates and warnings on radio and on television.
  2. following advice from the Environment Agency, local authority and emergency services, as appropriate.
  3. calling the Environment Agency’s Floodline on 0345 988 1188 for more information and/or monitoring the Environment Agency’s “Flooding Updates” here
  4. scrutinising the employer’s “Major Incident Plan” and ensuring it is both adequate and that safety representatives have been properly consulted.
  5. liaising with Emergency Services if there is any likelihood that the premises might be evacuated in the event of a flood.
  6. using the ususal method for informing parents about possible evacuations and closures.

In the unfortunate event that a school is flooded, once the water has subsided:

  1. A risk assessment must be carried out prior to re-occupation of the school and head teachers must seek employer advice before the school re-opens. No-one should be expected to work in a flooded building or without an adequate supply of fresh water, without sanitary facilities, and where heating systems aren’t working properly. This would be contrary to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. In such circumstances schools must remain closed to pupils and staff. There must be no expectation that members assist in the clean-up. Where members do wish to volunteer in this respect, this should only happen following the undertaking of the risk assessment described above, which would specifically need to take account of their role. Staff who do volunteer in this respect must be provided with proper personal protective equipment.
  2. The affected areas must to be dried out and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Flood water may contain not only silt but sewage. Dampness can promote the growth of fungus and mould which can cause allergies and breathing problems if inhaled. See end of document for a link to the NUT guidance on mould.
  3. The following must be checked by a competent person and verified safe prior to resumption of use:
  • Electrical and gas connections
  • Electrical equipment and plant, if affected
  • Heating systems, if affected
  • Fire safety systems, including alarms but also fire exits and escape routes. In the event of fire safety concerns, the fire authority should be contacted.
If you have any concerns about flood preparation in your school, contact the local NUT Division.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Cameras in Classrooms

The following letter and response were first published in The Teacher magazine January/February 2016.

There is a proposal at my school to introduce cameras into classrooms. We have been told that the system will be a useful tool for teacher collaboration, allowing teachers to reflect on, analyse and share good practice, but staff are concerned. What is the NUT view?

You are right to be concerned. Teachers may be accustomed to CCTV in schools for security reasons, but its installation in classrooms is seen by many teachers as a step too far. The NUT’s position on this is clear – monitoring teachers by means of CCTV for the purposes outlined above and in the absence of ‘explicit’ consent amounts to a breach of Data Protection Principles and should be resisted.

We would suggest that, once you know the full details of what is proposed – including how the system would work and whether or not it is voluntary – you get together with your NUT colleagues to discuss how it would affect you and the way you work. If it seems likely that the system could be used to make judgments about teachers’ performance outside the appraisal process, and is not genuinely voluntary, you and your colleagues might want to raise concerns with management. If your concerns are not heeded, the NUT’s programme of Action Short of Strike Action allows members to refuse to co-operate with initiatives which are educationally unsound and/or unnecessarily increase the burdens on teachers.

Fire Alarms: NO to ending automatic response in schools !

The following letter and advice originally appeared in The Teacher magazine, November-December 2015.

There has been a change to fire procedures in my school without any consultation. It used to be the case that when the fire alarm was activated, the fire brigade would respond automatically. Now they will only do so following a phone call from someone at the school. Why is this happening and what is the NUT's response?

Following consultation with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), we have discovered that fire and rescue services across the UK are adopting policies similar to that which you describe. It will come as no surprise that this is about cutting the number of calls attended, in order to reduce the number of fire engines deployed and save money.

As with many arguments regarding the fire service, this policy is prompted by a superficial view. It is true that a large proportion of fire calls received by the fire service are from automatic fire alarms. It is also true that a very large number of these calls are false due to one of the following reasons:
  • faulty equipment
  • accidental activation
  • no-fire activation (eg steam or smoke from cooking)
  • malicious intent (holding a smouldering match to a smoke detector).
The FBU supports initiatives to reduce false calls, for example through good management of buildings. But policies such as these are not ones that the FBU accepts or agrees with, and neither does the NUT.

There is no quick solution to this, as it results from policy of the Chief Fire Officers Association, but the NUT will continue to liaise with the FBU to raise our concerns and support their position.

We would advise members to check with their head teacher whether this policy applies in their school as in some cases schools haven't been consulted on or informed of the change. The priority should always be to ensure safe evacuation of pupils and staff.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Asbestos- Parliamentary Group says: Remove it NOW!

This article was first published on Dave Brinson's  Vice Presidential campaign site

We've been saying it for years, and finally an All-Party Parliamentary Group agrees we're right. Asbestos must be removed from schools.

More than 90% of schools in my Division have asbestos present. The official line from East Sussex County Council has been that it is better to "safely contain" asbestos, rather than "disturbing" it by removal.  The NUT and other teachers' unions do not believe that there is a "safe" level of containment: the material must be removed expertly and safely.

I remember doing a health and safety tour of a school, where the asbestos register showed a small amount of material in the roof above the entrance doors from a playground.  The health and safety officer assured me that it was not likely to be disturbed.  I asked him if he would have any objections to standing underneath that bit of ceiling (which was just thin ceiling tiles) while I kicked a football through it. He got my point !

Last week, there was a tragic fire at a school in my Division.  Much of the building, including the roof, was destroyed in the blaze.  Regional Officer Nick Childs was in contact with the local authority the very same day, to check the asbestos information for the site. We were lucky that there was no asbestos in the roof space (although there is some in the below-ground boiler room, which thankfully was not damaged.)  Had that fire been in an older building with asbestos materials in the roof space, the whole site could have been contaminated.

Old warm-air heaters must be checked
for asbestos-containing material.
And asbestos takes teacher's  lives.  A former staff member at my own school, Clive Beck, died of mesothelioma. The shelves in his stock cupboard had been made of asbestos-containing material. Many other schools had asbestos in wall panels, that were unwittingly used to pin students' work- releasing the deadly fibres.  Warm air heaters were merrily blowing out asbestos dust as the insulating materials inside began to break down with age.  Such overt asbestos hazards should be long-gone from our schools.  But as the "safely" contained asbestos begins to age, it is time to implement NUT policy and see the wholesale removal of all asbestos material from our schools.

NUT Health and Safety Reps can play a vital role, in pressuring their school or LA to remove any remaining asbestos-containing material.  If there isn't an NUT H&S rep yet in your school, why not volunteer? Free training provided by the Union, and a right to paid time off to attend.

Responding to the All-Party Parliamentary Group report, Julie Winn, Chair of Joint Union Asbestos Committee said:

“JUAC welcomes the APPG Report as the first step in developing a national strategic plan to remove asbestos from the built environment. Too little is known about the dangers of the deteriorating asbestos in more than 75% of our schools and colleges; where it is, what condition it is in, how duty holders are managing the asbestos in their schools. What we do know is that staff and pupils are dying as a result of their exposure to asbestos in schools. Despite this there is still no national strategic plan for the prioritised removal of asbestos from our schools over the medium and long term. The APPG Report acknowledges the increased risk to children of airborne asbestos and calls for schools to be prioritised with the removal of asbestos from all schools by 2028. JUAC supports the APPG Report. JUAC calls on all political parties to support the proposal for a new law on asbestos with a clear timetable for the eradication of asbestos and for them to work together to make all UK schools and colleges safe from asbestos.” The report can be found here.

For more information about Asbestos in schools, and other Health and Safety advice and guidance, visit the East Sussex NUT Health and Safety site here.  The A-Z tab at the top contains a list of all NUT briefings on these issues.

The Asbestos in Schools Group (AiS) is a campaigning organisation with an overall aim of making schools safe from the dangers of asbestos. AiS is non-party political.  See or

Monday, 12 October 2015

Fire- check YOUR school is prepared

In the early hours of this morning, Shinewater Primary School was all but destroyed in what appears to be an arson attack. The NUT will be offering whatever support it can to our members in the school, and the families affected.

Incidents such as this are mercifully rare, but it reminds us that we need to do all that we can to ensure our schools have equipment and systems in place to prevent fire, and to allow safe and swift evacuation if it does happen.

NUT School Reps and especially Health and Safety Reps are encouraged to make sure that:
  • a fire risk assessment has been carried out for your school, in consultation with the local authority and the fire authority;
  • proper precautions against the risk of fire are in place in your school;
  • fire emergency procedures are established, are known to all staff and pupils and are clearly displayed in prominent positions in the school;
  • fire hoses should NOT be used;
  • fire drills are held at least every term in the school;
  • fire precautions checks form a major part of your regular termly safety inspections; and
  • contingency plans are in place for the temporary housing of pupils if they are evacuated from school and cannot return.  
You can download the NUT's full Fire Safety guidance for members and reps by clicking here