First aid on the school curriculum

After years of advocacy by the British Red Cross and other stakeholders, the Government has proposed to include first aid as part of a new statutory subject, Health Education. This will increase the number of children and young people able, willing and capable to assist in an emergency, and improve health literacy and self-care; empowering a new generation of life-savers. The subject will also encompass loneliness and volunteering, along with broader themes such as resilience and well-being, providing a new opportunity to reframe humanitarianism in the context of the challenges individuals and communities face in the 21st century.

In medically derived equations to support survival, fundamental elements of education, local implementation, of being able to recognise an emergency and having the critical thinking skills to act effectively, are all essential to reducing suffering, and potentially saving a life. This scientific underpinning of first aid education is central to its success – not just from a clinical perspective to ensure the right treatment is given, but also from an educational perspective. There’s no point in knowing what to do if you don’t have the confidence to do it.

Too often, first aid education is seen as a stand-alone feature of health, sitting awkwardly between emergency medicine professionals and people who step forward to help in everyday emergencies. Yet for the patient – an elderly person who has slipped in the kitchen, or a choking toddler – the actions of the first person on the scene could be the difference between life and death.

Too often, first aid education is seen as a stand-alone feature of health, sitting awkwardly between emergency medicine professionals and people who step forward to help in everyday emergencies. Yet for the patient – an elderly person who has slipped in the kitchen, or a choking toddler – the actions of the first person on the scene could be the difference between life and death.

The luck (or not) of a ‘trained’ bystander being present at the scene of an emergency is underestimated in our culture and for most of us, first aid education tends to be a bolt-on to our formal education from years back – something we might learn in adulthood triggered by life events such as becoming a parent, or needing to look after an elderly relative.

Our recent research studies (Oliver, Walter, & Redmond, 2017; and BRC market research) show that just 5% of people have the skills, confidence and knowledge to step in to help someone in some of the most urgent emergency scenarios. This can lead to unnecessary deaths and serious injuries, and can put greater pressure on emergency services. Putting first aid into the school curriculum in England, and consequently reaching nearly 8 million pupils through 20,000 state schools every year would be a public health breakthrough on many levels:

By giving children a regular dose of first aid education (we are asking for an hour a year for every pupil), their familiarity with it grows, and with it their confidence and skill set;
Asking teachers to teach it reinforces the message that anyone can give first aid – you don’t have to be an expert. Rather, children are taught about the values of helping, of kindness, and of the difference they can make to someone’s life thanks to their action;

By embedding first aid within an education context which is constantly evolving, the opportunities for schools to draw on the best pedagogies and technologies builds accessibility and makes the learning more meaningful.

By embedding first aid within an education context which is constantly evolving, the opportunities for schools to draw on the best pedagogies and technologies builds accessibility and makes the learning more meaningful.

Essentially, first aid in schools allows for a democratisation of a critical life skill that will be relevant and needed at unplanned moments throughout life. As recommended by the Kerslake Arena Attack Review, the Government should increase its support for first-aid education programmes, so the public have both the will and the skill to be humanitarian actors when faced with the major, or minor emergencies now, or in the future.

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