First aid in schools


Jess Hubbard from St John Ambulance offers advice to schools that would like to offer first aid teaching for their pupils.

The teaching of first aid is to some extent a victim of the time-poor nature of modern education. There can be no doubting the usefulness of the subject – the skills it teaches can quite literally save lives – but these skills are often given second place to other priorities.

From my perspective this is a great shame. First aid education provides secondary school students with more than essential life-saving knowledge – it also teaches confidence and leadership, both of which are key transferable skills. Given the time and resource it deserves, teaching first aid can be an integral part of the secondary school experience – in much the same way work experience is.

As with work experience, the training is educational, fun and interactive, providing students with the knowledge that they can help others when they most need it.

Teachers themselves recognise the value of the subject. In a recent survey by St John Ambulance, 97 per cent of teachers were keen to be able to offer it to their own students. However, only 21 per cent said they were in a position to do so.

The research found that the main barriers to teaching first aid were a lack of time, staff training and funding. The good news is that many of these barriers can be quickly removed. First aid training need not be timely or costly and can even be delivered using a school’s existing skills-base, combined with free and easily available resources.

Schools are already obliged to have a number of first-aiders among their staff as part of a comprehensive health and safety strategy. By combining this knowledge with St John Ambulance’s free teaching resources, these first-aiders can share their skills with pupils, adding hundreds of potential life-savers to schools and communities. 

The only additional time investment we would recommend in this case is that those teaching the course attend refresher training themselves every three years in order to keep up-to-date with the latest first aid techniques. 

With 35 per cent of teachers highlighting a lack of time as their reason for bypassing first aid education, we have found that the length of time it takes to teach basic first aid is actually more of a misperception than a challenge.

There are a great number of options that can dramatically reduce lesson preparation time, whereby students learn directly from a qualified first aid trainer at community classes or by having them come and teach pupils at the school.

And for those schools who can spend more time on lesson planning, there are a range of options to tailor courses to the age and requirements of students (a year 7 student would require a significantly different lesson to a 6th-former for example).

If desired, teachers can even build their own lessons from scratch, which can often be the most effective approach for schools with particular needs. 

Getting it right 

In our research, 21 per cent of teachers said they were in a position to teach the next generation of life-savers. One such example is Endon High School in Staffordshire, recent finalists at St John Ambulance’s Everyday Heroes awards. 

With 700 students and 70 staff, the school is well aware of the risks first aid incidents pose to schools on a daily basis, which is why it has taken action to ensure that every person on its premises has the potential to be a life-saver. 

More than 25 per cent of Endon’s staff already hold a first aid certificate, with this knowledge being transferred to their young people. In the last year alone, the school trained every pupil in basic first aid, also offering the option for them to continue their training through a number of different programmes.

The school also encourages widespread discussion around the topic of first aid, placing the issue at the centre of school life. This includes holding assemblies, updating a first aid notice board, and setting its young people projects to design first aid resources, while promoting the technology that is already available. 

The school also uses its regular newsletter to inform parents about aspects of first aid, with its next aim to branch out into the local community by offering first aid training evenings for those living in the area.

Putting first aid first

In a bid to help schools find the time and resource to deliver first aid training, for the first time ever St John Ambulance is offering schools the opportunity to take a new approach – by teaching students from more than 1,000 schools across the country all at once.

The Big First Aid Lesson – a free, one-hour, online first aid session streaming live and direct into classrooms – takes place on June 20 and we are urging schools across the country to join in.

When it comes down to it, first aid education is about much more than simply providing students with valuable life-skills, it is about slashing the number of people that die needlessly each year. With just one hour’s worth of training a student could be the difference between life and death for someone in your community. We hope that the Big First Aid Lesson can be the first step for many budding first-aiders.

  • Jess Hubbard is young people’s programme officer at St John Ambulance.

Further information
To sign up now or find out more information about first aid in schools, visit


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