Health and Safety

Some of you may think the topic of Health and Safety is rather boring.  You have come into teaching to help teach pupils and encourage them to learn.  What place does Health and Safety have then, in the life of a school leader or indeed any teacher?

Putting it simply, a lack of good Health and Safety in school can lead to people being injured or worse dead; and injured pupils don’t learn well as they tend not to be in school and dead ones do even worse!

So good health and safety procedures are essential and should be on the top of a teacher’s and educational leader’s agenda along with safeguarding.  It should even come before teaching and learning.

As the senior member of staff responsible for H&S I tend to do one annual inspection and follow it up with a second inspection to check that instructions have been implemented a short while later.  Don’t think for a minute that this is the only inspection taking place.  The site management team should be conducting regular checks to do with fire safety and other visual checks as part of their weekly and daily routines.  In fact our school has a list of things which are checked and each day the site management team do a school close down and literally walk round the whole school, they carry out one specific check and log it in writing.  (Important – write down a record of checks which you do). There are also other checks going on through the year carried out by faculty leaders and teachers as part of their duties too

So what should an annual H&S audit involve?  Well I do two things.  Firstly there is a meeting with myself and the site manager where we review current practice and procedures.  I use the checklist attached here to help us evaluate and write an action plan for the year.  Secondly we do a full walk around of the site including external areas.  It is difficult to provide a full list of things to check on your rounds but it is useful to understand what the main causes of risk are as this will help you focus your attention on your walkabout.   Don’t worry if you are not really experienced as H&S is common sense more often than not.  If it looks dangerous it probably is.  If you are new to inspecting H&S get someone who has experience to do a walk around with you as you can learn a lot from others.

The main areas of risk in school are (in no particular order):

  1. Fire
  2. Chemical storage and injuries.
  3. Collisions (with other people, fixed objects, moving objects (in PE and the car park), falling objects)
  4. Falls from a height.
  5. Manual handling injuries.
  6. Asbestos
  7. Slips and trips.
  8. Stress
  9. Work related violence
  10. Lone working
  11. Contractors on site
  12. Electricity
  13. Display screen equipment
  14. Legionella

So lets look at the things you might check on your walkabout.  Remember not all of the things will be relevant all of the time.  I tend to take a floor plan and mark off with a highlighter each room and area I have checked.  You should do the same as you will be surprised how long an audit takes.  You can spend a whole day doing a full audit and you might not have time to do it all in one day so a floor plan will allow you to come back and complete the inspection in stages.

Fire

  • Can the fire alarm be heard in all areas of the school?
  • Do all emergency lights work?
  • Are all fire exits and walkways clear and unobstructed?
  • Do fire doors open freely and close fully with a good seal after they have been let go?
  • Electrically controlled doors will need to be tested for function.
  • Is there current and clear signage.
  • Are there adequate extinguishers and alarms points.
  • Is there adequate smoke detection.  Think here about the use of a room.  Toilets and wash areas with high humidity don’t have smoke detection but often schools stop using a toilet and might start using it as a store.  In this case the room has changed function and should have smoke detection fitted.
  • Are light fittings, heaters, boilers and electrical fixtures clear of combustibles and do they have adequate ventilation.  A common one I find is paper stored on high shelves close to a light fitting as well as teachers storing huge amounts of resources and packing them round, for example, electrical units.
  • Is the structure of the room intact.  Check for missing tiles, holes in walls, missing window panes etc.. Remember, fires are contained in building by ensuring rooms are sealed containers.  a fire in a room with closed windows and doors should burn itself out in minutes but if some kid has kicked a hole in a fire door , this will provide a rich source of oxygen to keep the fire burning.
  • Check that external storage of chemicals, rubbish, timber etc are placed well away from the building.  Remember that the main cause of fires in schools is arson so keep your external fuel sources away from the building.

Chemical Storage

  • There are plenty of rules and regulations about storing chemicals which your technical staff should be able to advise you on.
  • I tend to ensure that flammables are stored in appropriate containers (fire proof or metal), items are clearly labelled, excess storage of chemicals is kept to a minimum, staff access is controlled and pupils should not be able to access them at all without supervision.
  • Is an inventory maintained?
  • Are Data and Hazard cards available?

Collisions

  • Check that vehicles and pedestrians are kept well apart preferably by some form of physical barrier.
  • ensure that movement around the school is safe.  You might need to consider putting in rules about flow of people to avoid crushes at times when lots of people are moving at one time.  Stairs are especially dangerous at high flow times. If you are looking for rules on flow of people, your fire evacuation routes will be a good start.
  • Check that PE have adequate facilities to ensure that pupils are not moving at speed in close proximity which can increase the likelihood of collisions.  Indoor cricket should utilise nets to avoid damage from rogue cricket balls too.

Falls from height

  • Check access to roofs is restricted.
  • Check flat roofs and fragile surfaces are clearly identified.
  • Sky lights and roof openings should be barricaded off if access to the roof space is needed regularly.
  • In classrooms with high storage do staff have access to mini step ladders or an elephant stool, and is the equipment serviceable?
  • If large step ladders or full ladders are used does the person using them have working at height training?

Manual Handling

  • Do staff that work in rooms where manual handling is used have training?
  • Is there adequate equipment available for staff such as stair climbers, trolleys?
  • Do classroom staff ensure that heavy items are stored low down with lighter items stored higher up? Hint – examine the storage areas in your rooms and consider if the smallest frailest member of staff could lift an item off a shelf.

Asbestos

  • If you have an older school it will have asbestos in it.  Do you have a clear asbestos plan of the school?
  • Are staff notified of the existence of asbestos in school.
  • Check the substrate of the building is in good order.  Remember most asbestos will be hidden away in building materials, if items are crumbling, smashed or broken this may be a cause of danger.
  • Does someone have responsibility for signing off permission to work documentation.  Hint – check your technicians and ICT network staff are trained as they may well unwittingly start drilling holes to run cables and put shelves up.

Slips and Trips

  • Check floor surfaces for integrity and evenness.  Don’t forget outside too. Hint – carpet edges, door thresholds, stair edges, floor tiles are common areas of concerns
  • Pay attention to stairs. Hint – dropped flagstones, damaged stair treads and root egress are common areas of concern.
  • Consider if surfaces need anti slip finishes applying to them
  • Is there adequate use of handrails on slopes and stairs?
  • In areas where splashes can occur is there facility to wipe up spills immediately.
  • Is their adequate signage available to warn people of wet flooring?

Stress

  • Is there drinking water available?
  • Are there adequate washing facilities with safe hot water supplies?
  • Is lighting adequate and do any lights need repairing?
  • Is the control of temperature acceptable. Hint – there is no upper temperature limit set in law but be honest with yourself, could you work in that hot classroom everyone talks about.  Consider the use of opening windows, fans or air conditioning.
  • Do areas have adequate access to first aid supplies?
  • Is there adequate first aid cover in each area?
  • Is medication stored correctly, clearly labelled with appropriate documentation?

Work Related Violence/Lone working

  • Is their a clear procedure for staff at risk of violence from pupils or members of the public.  Hint – a risk assessment should be available.  You might consider meeting in pairs, notifying reception of meetings and suspected end times, use of rape alarms to raise help.
  • Likewise, are their clear procedures for staff working alone.  Hint – staff undertaking dangerous work should work in pairs or be checked regularly.  eg. working on a roof, undertaking significant building work or hot works.

Contractors on site

  • Are procedures in place for selecting contractors based on competency rather than cost alone?
  • Are contractors required to communicate control measures.
  • Does the school check the contractors insurance, certification of competency, safety policy and get references for work undertaken?
  • Does the school monitor external contractor and intervene where it feels there is an unacceptable risk being taken?

Electricity/Gas

  • Check for damaged wiring or equipment.
  • Check for correct use of electrical equipment.
  • Check all equipment has an annual certification certificate (PAT test).  Hint – remove items not checked or staff will continue to use them.
  • Check the
  • Check that adaptor blocks are not in use.  plug extension boards are fine but they need to be double insulated and fused but it is better to have adequate plug sockets in the first place.  Hint – you can add this sort of work onto your list of modifications for the next holiday.
  • Are gas shuts offs clearly marked and working?
  • Check cables are clear of walkways and secured neatly.
  • Oxygen and fuel cylinders are locked in cages and separate from each other.

Display Screen Equipment

  • Users of display screen equipment should have access to a self assessment document to allow them to assess their work space.
  • Users who have identified medical problems associated with posture might benefit from an assessment by a qualified assessor.

Legionella

  • A record of water checks are kept.
  • Water systems are flushed regularly. Hint – you might find sections of old pipework that have become defunct.  These will hold stagnant water and should be removed.

Finally, a word about housekeeping.  A tidy classroom is generally a safe classroom.  On your walkabout give some consideration to what each room looks like.  Graffiti, chewing gum, general damage/wear and tear, damage to paintwork etc can actually encourage pupils to be less careful of looking after their environment.  I have a rule in my school.  If it is broken it gets fixed straight away or removed until it is.  Teachers always seem to hoard resources and you need to make sure there is adequate storage for it all.  Sometimes it means telling them to have a clear out, at other times it might mean more robust shelving.  Remember to check if it is likely that teachers can safely access resources in terms of lifting and climbing and make sure items are not at risk of falling on people.

Don’t forget to issue your written report to all staff so that everyone is aware.  I normally highlight in the report specific people who need to remedy anything I have highlighted.  AND – don’t forget to do a follow up check and go and see if your directions/recommendations have been actioned.

Strategically Planning your ICT Infrastructure Part 2

The Building Blocks of ICT Networks

This section of my article on technology is really aimed at leaders who have limited understanding of how networks function. As a head teacher you will have some pretty big cheques to sign off and knowing what exactly some of the hardware is might make it seem less daunting. I’ll start with the end you will know as a user. The interface or the thing you use to do whatever it is you are doing with technology.

User Interfaces

You use computer interfaces everyday, your digital watch and its buttons, your programmable microwave, your alarm clock, the cashpoint and so on.

The past decade has seen a significant shift from large desk based devices to mobile devices that can go anywhere. Young people are nearly all fully engaged with mobile technology and even pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds seem to ensure they have adequate technology (probably foregoing other perceivably more essential items). Yet schools continue to ban personal devices, instead battling with pupils over paper planners and missed homework that might conceivably be better integrated into the digital solutions they all have and want to use.

Over the next decade I suspect that schools will see a shift away from traditional desktop devices to more mobile devices or cheaper desk bound alternatives such as dumb terminals. Dumb terminals are basically a monitor and keyboard connected to a server somewhere else in the building (a big computer). Schools need to evaluate their current policies on banning (or allowing) mobile technologies and consider how they might be used effectively and safely in the future.

With dwindling school budgets, there is also a strong argument that implementing a ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) system may result in savings for schools although with such a policy, great care would need to be taken to ensure safe use of such devices.

The bottom line is that I am convinced there will be a shift away from bulky and expensive desktop machines. However, there are pros and cons when considering what interfaces to buy. Some things to consider:

  1. Laptops and mobile devices have the obvious benefit of being mobile (assuming good wireless connectivity) but in my experience are not as viable when used by pupil populations that are prone to vandalising or abusing equipment. It is worth noting that a new desktop keyboard and mouse can be had for less than £5 but a new laptop keyboard will likely cost in the region of £30-80 (or more) and take a considerable amount of effort to replace compared to a desktop keyboard and mouse. Tablets generally tend to be very strong save only for damage to screens which effectively write off the device due to the cost of replacement. If you are purchasing mobile devices you need to think about where the devices will be stored, who will supervise their use, whether it is realistic to assume that deliberate damage can be minimised or stopped and the impact it will have on learning if five machines have been damaged and are out of action for a fortnight.   PERSONAL VIEW – laptops are best used where a limited number of staff will have responsibility for them, their use will be carefully monitored or where pupils have a high level of maturity and look after school equipment.
  2. Dumb Terminals – are basically a keyboard mouse and screen. The complex workings that you would expect to be taking place inside a traditional laptop or desktop machine take place on a large computer called a server which actually does the job of many computers all at once. If you choose this route the interface is a relatively cheap affair, with screens, keyboard and mice being cheap but your school will need a robust network of cables to handle the data being transferred across the network and the servers are more expensive. You will find that dumb terminals lack the mobility of laptops but take up less desk space and pupils can use desks for writing or computer work. PERSONAL VIEW – dumb terminals are good if you have a network capable of supporting this technology but don’t expect them to do processor heavy stuff like video editing, picture editing or CAD/CAM work. You are better off using desktop machines.
  3. Desktop machines. Everyone will be familiar with the desktop computer. Like the computer you have at home save for the fact that you logon across a network and your work is not saved on the local machine and is saved elsewhere in school on a fileserver or SAN, the desktop machine is a robust device; damaged screens, keyboards and mice are easy to replace and not too expensive but they do take up space and it can be difficult for pupils to swap between computer work and writing. They are also generally cheaper to install than laptops but require dedicated computer rooms. They are also more effective for processor heavy activities such as CAD/CAM, photo editing or video production. PERSONAL VIEW –the best choice for processor heavy stuff like video editing, picture editing or CAD/CAM work or where you have problems with pupils damaging equipment.
  4. BYOD/personal devices – bring your own device or personal devices. Some schools allow pupils to bring their own devices or provide personal devices. Whilst this can make a huge saving on school budgets (when pupils are expected to bring their own devices) there are a myriad of problems associated with ensuring devices are all able to access school networks, how pupils are supported with such a variety of devices, how to support the training of your ICT team to cater for such diversity and also how to ensure safe access and use. PERSONAL VIEW – BYOD/Personal devices would work best where pupils use the same technology. Perhaps when schools have purchased specific items or subsidised the procurement of personal devices. Pupils having ownership of devices means they are more likely to value them and look after them but you will need robust policies and procedures for safeguarding. Processor heavy activities will still require dedicated machines for this although the use of remote servers (e.g. using your personal device to access resources over the internet) is also a possibility.

What sits behind your user experience

Most head teachers will know that there sits behind the user interface lots more expensive technology. So what exactly is it all, what does it do and why is so expensive? For most users the point of interaction is their only knowledge of the school’s ICT infrastructure save for a few people who might have caught the odd glimpse of the school’s network room with its icy cold air and banks of beeping and flashing machines.

Underpinning the users experience there needs to be a robust network infrastructure. You need to have in place a backbone of good quality network cabling and fibre optic links to ensure data can pass quickly around the site. In most schools services are provided to users by way of machines known as servers. These are machines much like your desktop machines although they generally do one job only, albeit for many users at once, where as your personal desktop machine at home has to do all jobs for one user only.

As a minimum most networks will have a domain controller (something which allocates logons to users), an application server (which allows software to run) and a SAN or storage area network (allowing users to save work or files). If people need access to the internet there will be a web server and email is controlled by a mail server. Print servers sort the printing, MIS servers (management information systems) contain all your staff/pupil data, CCTV servers control your cameras, media servers store media files such as video and remote servers allow external users to access systems at school when they are geographically separated.

Each server or machine is a physical device which needs to be bought, installed, maintained, cooled, powered, often licenced, insured and takes up space. Network rooms therefore fill up quickly and are expensive.  Since the machines have to be powerful and work with multiple users they are expensive and can cost anything from a 2k up to 10k plus.

Traditional Network Architecture:

Historically, most schools have adopted a traditional setup with one server doing one job. If a server breaks down that service is lost until it is repaired meaning loss of business continuity to users. It might be no big deal but if it is the same time as OFSTED have announced they are coming in and you can’t email documents over in advance, or the police have turned up with a worrying safeguarding concern about a pupil and your management information server has failed, both could have dire consequences.

I might start building my network purchasing servers like this. Each one is a separate cost and is added on to my network. You can see quite quickly my server room is going to get filled up, I will need a significant amount of cooling, power consumption and so on. E.g.

  • Server 1 – Print server
  • Server 2 – Mail server
  • Server 3 – Application Server
  • Server 4 – Web Server and so on

Virtual Network Architecture

In the future schools will need to give serious consideration to virtualisation of servers and workstations. This involves buying high specification servers in the first place and creating multiple virtual servers within. This can reduce the number of physical machines needed with savings in power consumption, cooling etc… Each server machine basically does the job of the many servers you might buy separately in a traditional network.

Setting up two virtual servers that work together means greater speeds can be achieved and when one fails, the functioning server will automatically take over all responsibility and in some cases can even do this by actioning a predicted failure. Users are left unaware of what has happened and continue to use the system as normal.

E.g.

  • Server 1 – (comprising 4 virtual servers and mirroring Server 2)
  • Server 2 – (comprising 4 virtual servers and mirroring Server 1)

0% downtime to users is therefore achievable. When such virtual servers are separated geographically (e.g. in different buildings) not even the loss of a building can stop your network functioning.

There are clear advantages to virtualisation:

  • Less hardware means less cooling and less energy consumption.
  • Unsupported legacy software can be set up on a virtual server.
  • When new software is installed it can be tested on a virtual server first to make sure there are no compatibility issues. Such advantages again limit any loss of service to users.
  • Less manpower needed.
  • Business continuity.
  • Less hardware to purchase and less equipment to replace.
  • Less physical space needed.

Storage of Data

With traditional network architecture data has been stored on site on fileservers or SAN (storage area networks). Schools do not need to use localised storage anymore as there are now big companies offering cloud storage; which effectively means your data is simply stored on one of their computers, perhaps not even in this country. Such big companies are also capable of providing back up services that far exceed any capacity a local school might realistically implement and the security measures are also incomparable. Movement to cloud storage also results in reduced hardware and energy costs and near infinite storage capacity.

Remote Servers

With the cost of software being unattainable for some pupils to own personally, the use of remote servers can break down barriers to access for disadvantaged pupils and schools might consider funding infrastructure using pupil premium funding. Remote servers basically allow pupils (and staff) to access software in school by effectively logging on to a virtual computer over the internet. Pupils don’t need expensive computers to run processor heavy software since the software runs or expensive school servers. The remote server simply provides a connection and the users own device simply needs to be capable of rudimentary web browsing.

 

Part 3 to follow –areas of technology to watch in education.

 

Strategically Planning your ICT Infrastructure

Part 1 – Strategically Planning your ICT Infrastructure

This article outlines some of the things you might consider when planning your school’s ICT infrastructure and ensuring it is fit for purpose over the next decade. The article does not endorse any particular brand and is intended as ‘food for thought’. I share my current thoughts on where school leaders might spend their school’s ever decreasing funds, highlight some specific areas that might warrant development in schools, explain and unpick some of the basic network design concepts for those leaders who are not technology savvy and suggest a four point plan for your future network development.

Planning Strategically

Technology isn’t predictable. The designers of mobile texting technology cannot have envisaged the success of this technology with today’s array of messaging systems marrying up phone, email and social media sites and spawning an entirely new language of emoticons and text language. Nor could the designers of Google glass have foreseen the rather sad uptake of its futuristic interactive glasses.

Whilst schools lack a crystal ball to see the future what they don’t lack is the capacity to lead on the strategic use of technology, learn from history and make sensible measured guesses about the future.

Why invest at all?

There are five reasons you should invest in technology. Most obviously is the impact of technology on:

  1. Learning outcomes and coupled to this,
  2. Teaching

But there are three other areas that technology can play an important role.

  1. Improving the systems which a school operates on; which in turn can lead to
  2. Savings on day to day processes.

Finally, alongside the increased focus by OFSTED on pupil safety and wellbeing, and given the very significant risks posed to young people, technology can also play a significant role in:

  1. Improving the safety of pupils.

A Four Point Strategic Plan to Modernise Your Network

Step 1 Develop A Vision

A good starting point might be a ‘Vision Document – or Day in the life’ outlining what your school’s technology might look like in the future for different people. Engaging with the widest number of stakeholders is key to ensuring that the broadest consideration is given to the potential impact of technology. Suggested areas for discussion would include:

  • Personalisation of learning and curriculum
  • Inclusion and SEN
  • Transition between phases
  • Children’s Services
  • Management and Administration
  • CPD and Change Management
  • Community Access and use of ICT resources
  • ICT and the Physical Environment
  • Contribution of the existing services and hardware.
  • Staff wellbeing and work-life balance

It might also be advisable to get an external professional audit of your current network if you do not have the expertise in-house. This will ensure you know which parts of your current infrastructure still have serviceable life and which are ready for recycling.

Step 2 Put the Right People in Post

Having established a vision the next step is to audit the strengths of the technical team and technology users. The outcome might result in the need to appoint new staff, or train and develop existing staff.

I am particularly interested in the development of technical teams that do not fit into the stereotypical mould of unapproachable technology intellects. Too many schools allow Network Managers to build systems that are overly complicated, are only fathomable to established staff (which is fine till they leave) and often don’t fulfil any of the needs of the end user.

The technical team therefore need to be highly visible leaders in their own right. Do your technology teams carry out learning walks spending time in classes and observing first-hand how technology users interact with it? Do they provide support, train and encourage people to make more effective use of the technology? Are pupils encouraged to gain work experience as part of the curriculum by working alongside your staff so they can see what the job entails.

Remember though that the range of expertise involved in setting up a school network means it is often better to buy in expertise for initial set up leaving the school’s technical team to become competent in the day to day use and oversight of operations.

You should also consider how teachers and support staff will access on-going support and training. This will require some careful consideration of how your CPD and induction procedure marry up with the technology in place.

Step 3 Planning and Implementation

The starting point for any project planning does of course boil down to finance. It is difficult to plan a decade ahead given how much technology changes so I personally plan ahead financially for three years with fourth and fifth year plans normally left as a rough guide. There has been much debate about how much schools should spend per pupil and in my experience schools nationally spend about 6% of their per pupil funding on ICT. There are strong arguments to suggest that schools might be better off spending closer to 10% but the bottom line is that you need to set a budget.

Having established a minimum funding agreement your next step is to map out expected spending both for on-going commitments and investments in changes to bring about an infrastructure fit for the next decade.  It is best to focus initially on the core functions of the network including cabling and primary servers (such as Domain Controllers, SANs, Switches etc.). A lot of this investment goes unnoticed by everyday users save for improvements in speed and reliability but is necessary for future expansion and is the foundations on which your state of the art network will be built.

From experience, users’ main complaints about school technology is a lack of access or provision and it is unfortunate that with any programme of modernisation, the laying of foundations does not immediately resolve this issue for users. You should therefore review the availability of your current provisions to try and ensure that resources are used effectively as possible.

Realistic timescales and service level agreements also need to be negotiated and your HR team will need to work with your technical staff to ensure they have flexibility in their job descriptions to allow work to be undertaken during quieter times of the year such as holidays, weekends, evenings and night times. Make sure your projects are well planned with realistic timescales and notify users of any interruption to normal service so they can manage their workloads too.

Step 4 Evaluation

The process of evaluating your use of ICT needs to be on-going, after each phase of a rebuild, after each stage of modernisation, termly, annually etc. You can use a variety of methods for collating data on use including digital records of use, surveys and interviews but make sure that you actually observe practice and see first-hand how your technology is used.

Your evaluation should

  • Lead to clear policies about usage to safeguard all users from inappropriate use.
  • Result in emergency plans which take into account a variety of scenarios and standard operating procedures for staff to follow in the event of an emergency.
  • Identify clear succession plans to take into account sudden losses of staff (death, new job, ill health, suspension etc.…)
  • Inform your CPD and induction programme
  • Identify new and evolving uses of technology.
  • Allow you to update and modify your ICT budget.

Part 2 to follow – a sensible approach to accepting quotes, network structures and areas of interest for headteachers.