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Pupil Welfare Assessment

on Friday, 12 June 2015.

Risk assessment is a concept which routinely gets bad press.

The need to assess health and safety risks has been blamed for the prohibition of all sorts of activities, some valuable and others less so, including the banning of games of conkers and hanging baskets, the serving of teas at school fetes and the cancellation of school productions and trips.

Quite how a legal requirement enacted to protect people from risks to their health and safety has become so unpopular is difficult to understand. It perhaps results from a lack of knowledge of what the law actually requires and (sadly) because it sometimes presents a socially acceptable excuse for refusing permission for an activity which has been requested.

Health and Safety

The requirements of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (and the consequent duty to assess the health and safety risks arising out of a work operation) extend to all those affected by a work operation.

The purpose of such an assessment is to identify significant health and safety risks - those which are not trivial and which are capable of creating a real risk to health and safety (those which any reasonable person would appreciate and would take steps to guard against); and then to consider what needs to be done to control them.

That may involve the introduction of additional controls before authorising an activity with an acceptable level of residual risk, but if an activity cannot be adequately controlled at reasonable cost, is likely to lead to the cessation of that activity.

In a school context, the need to assess health and safety risks extends to those affecting pupils, parents, contractors and visitors but, until now, an employer has not formally had to risk assess its arrangements for protecting the welfare of pupils.

Pupil Welfare

Since the introduction of the new Standards in January 2015 and the new NMS for Boarding in April 2015, the proprietors of independent schools and academies have also been required to ensure that the welfare of pupils at the school is 'safeguarded and promoted by the drawing up and effective implementation of a written risk assessment policy.'

The extension of the concept of risk assessment to pupil welfare is, in my view, sensible. Regardless of the legal requirements set out in the new Regulations, the safeguarding and promotion of pupil welfare is paramount to the successful operation of a school and a primary consideration for those choosing, funding or attending them.

Schools have always made arrangements to protect pupil welfare and will already have systems in place to do so. Any school on notice of bullying of one pupil by another, for example, will seek to address that, first by investigating the allegation and, if proven, by appropriate control measures which may include support, sanctions and practical measures such as changing pupil seating or classes.

However, the change in the regulatory environment means that schools need to ensure that their policies and procedures for doing so meet the new requirements. They now need a written risk assessment policy for pupil welfare and this is likely to be high on school leaders' and managers' agenda now that they themselves will be judged on how they promote the well-being of pupils; and to ensure that their systems mirror that policy.

Policy and Procedures

The aspect of the new Regulations which has caused the most confusion relates to the particular requirements of such a policy and the practicality of how to undertake and record risk assessment in this context, rather than the ideology behind it.

The concept of risk assessment in a health and safety context is well established and although there are no fixed rules about how a risk assessment is done or recorded, most follow HSE guidance (and templates) and:

  • consider what might cause harm to people
  • decide whether enough is being done to prevent that harm
  • identify and prioritise appropriate and sensible control measures
  • record, review and update the assessments

In practice, the approach to pupil welfare in schools is commonly less clear, information being collated at class, house, medical centre and school level and often not being coordinated and monitored centrally for individual pupils and for trends which need to be addressed.

In the light of the new requirements, we recommend that schools not only review their policies, but that they also introduce clear systems for the practical assessment and management of pupil welfare issues, along the lines of those used for health and safety.

ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate) have suggested that schools' existing systems will already cover this (through their health and safety policies), but in our experience that is rarely so (not least because health and safety law does not require consideration of pupil welfare, as opposed to safety) and schools are therefore advised to review their policies and arrangements to ensure compliance.

The new Regulations are not prescriptive and there are a number of ways in which a school may choose to approach this.

Those charitable schools among you may be mindful of the Charity Commission's guidance on risk management[6] (a useful advisory note for all school proprietors) and may decide to cover the school's risk assessment process for pupil welfare within an overarching risk policy.

Others may develop a specific risk assessment policy for pupil welfare to address the new requirements.

Alternatively, you may consider this best addressed by amendment of existing policies (either the pupil welfare suite including Safeguarding and Child Protection, Anti-Bullying and Behaviour, or the health and safety suite, including the school's health and safety policy), to ensure they are fit for purpose.

Who should undertake the assessments?

Schools will need to identify who should be involved in risk assessment in a pupil welfare context. In most schools, the management of welfare issues will be led by the Deputy Head (Pastoral) and will involve consultation with relevant staff, parents and pupils. However, all staff have a role in reporting issues of concern and suggesting ways in which they may be managed and addressed.

The law requires that risk assessments are undertaken by those competent to do so, but that does not mean that specific training or qualifications are required. Competence is assessed by reference to a person's skills, knowledge and experience to assess and manage these issues. Schools need to consider this and to ensure that key staff have clearly defined roles and responsibilities.


The benefits of setting out a school's approach to the promotion of pupil welfare clearly and unambiguously are not limited to compliance.

They will assist with competitive advantage (pupil welfare being a key issue impacting on parent choice). They will provide clarity to staff dealing with often challenging and time-sensitive issues. They will facilitate effective information-sharing internally, with regulatory bodies, pupils and their parents. They will prompt regular review. And they will assist schools facing complaint and other legal challenge to demonstrate what was done to address issues identified.

Should you have any queries arising from the issues raised in this article or be interested in purchasing the template policies referred to, please contact Tabitha Cave in our Independent Schools team on 0117 314 5381.

This article first appeared in the June 2015 edition of Independent Education Today.