Student Voices Heard in Primary Health & Safety Reps Programme

I’ve had the pleasure of supporting Aspire Academy Trust, Cornwall with back health resources, physiotherapy advice and low height working equipment for their committed teaching and support staff for several years. I genuinely value and enjoy working with Aspire’s Health and Safety Team, so when I was asked to contribute ergonomics and back health advice for their innovative “Health & Safety Student Representatives Training”, I was eager to help and learn more.

Aspire Academy Trust has 28 primary schools across Cornwall with over 6000 pupils and 1000 staff.  Julie Brooks, Safety & General Operations Manager, is ably supported by Health & Safety Officers Sian Valentine and Hazel Richardson. Julie proudly says “We are a great organisation and we are fortunate to work with a leadership team that enables and empowers you to “think outside the box” to ensure that we impact positively on the pupil experience and that is what we do”.

I asked Julie some quick-fire questions about Aspire’s H&S Student Rep Programme before our virtual training to 30 KS2 pupils (aged 8-11 years). I’m based in Derbyshire and we delivered a 30-minute interactive session to Cornwall – a treat for us all! Enjoy being amazed by a simply brilliant concept:

  • Why was Aspire’s H&S Student Rep Programme set up?

 I previously worked in Further Education where the Student Voice had great influence.  When I was asked to take on H&S for Aspire I said I had to make it fun, and who better to inform us of H&S issues but our students as they use the equipment and we need their input. Fortunately, our CEO thought that was a brilliant idea and gave the green light. The students have made a huge impact on “getting things done” – even simple things like requesting we put mirrors in the boys’ toilets.  It has been a hard journey and the buy in from Heads was not very positive initially. However, with support from other Heads and their influence, combined with the impact of positive changes being implemented by our reps, it has eventually moved it to full engagement with all schools this year.  It has taken 3 ½ years to get us to where we are now. We started with 22 Reps and now have 74 with another 30 coming on board this year. Sian and I work closely with the EYFS Team, and our H&S policy is written to accommodate DfE regulations and expectations.

  • What do you enjoy about training your Student H&S Reps?

I love the intelligence of our young people, the articulation, their ability to understand and take responsibility. Pupils who usually display some challenging behavioural issues really enjoy the rules and the clarity of H&S and we find that they are great ambassadors. Plus, they enjoy meeting like-minded Reps from across the Trust on our training days.

  • What are you hoping to achieve through your H&S initiative?

We are all responsible for H&S and our students are well placed to help us in fun and engaging ways. They play on the equipment we don’t.  They play in the field and hard surface areas and can identify hazards.  They love pulling out wedges from fire doors and reporting missing ceiling tiles as fire breaches.  We train them in H&S legislation, obviously not intense, but it is important they understand, plus risk assessment and we have trained them on how to inspect and what to look for. Most do termly inspections and report issues directly to me if the hazards are not dealt with. Our Student H&S Reps create a H&S Poster for the Trust each year which is displayed in each school – it’s a collage of their interpretation of H&S.  It is also making children understand that the world cannot be made safe, it is their responsibility to act safely and consider the risk.  A wonderful observation once from a student rep was that the teachers work through their lunch and they should have a break.

  • How was your H&S Student Rep programme set up at Aspire?

I had a lightbulb idea and presented this to the CEO with no plan!  He suggested I meet with Student Councils (which exist in each school), talk to them about H&S and recruit reps.  We found they all wanted to be reps so we asked that they do a presentation to the student council and reps be voted on.  Some Heads did not like the idea of it being official and resisted quite strongly.  However, where Heads engaged the impact of their students getting things done and their engagement with staff has had a huge impact on the culture of the whole school in regards to H&S. 

With Teachers or Teaching Assistants attending our training sessions, they found the training invaluable and state “we have learned so much”.  We give each Rep a bag, pen, clipboard and a certificate with Aspire Health & Safety Student Rep printed on and they love owning this plus a badge.

  • How do you think Jolly Back adds value to your programme?

The value of Jolly Back and ergonomics for primary pupils is very relevant to how they work with technology and teaching good habits at an early age is crucial.  We felt your ergonomic video which we have shared with all the Student Councils was excellent and very much about them. We wanted the Tier 2 rep training (training for reps who have already been trained in the full day H&S training) to have training in H&S which is relevant and useful.  On our Tier 2 training day, Sian delivered “Little Lifesavers” first aid training as she is qualified to teach this; we set up a room with hazards and asked them to identify and explain why they were hazards and educated them in the legislation. Then they did the ergonomic session with Lorna which they all enjoyed.

  • If primary schools would like to set up a programme, what should they do?

I am happy for initial enquiries via  We are now also starting the same programme with “Eco Warriors” as a result of a group of H&S Reps asking Sian and I to attend a recycling centre. The students want to save the marine wildlife and have tasked us with ensuring the Trust has a commitment to sustainability – as you can see they are very aware and have high expectations of us!

As you can see, the work going on at Aspire Academy Trust is phenomenal. What incredible opportunities for pupils, seeing “real life” in action, contributing to their school community and having a positive impact on Health and Safety. Looking forward to our continued partnership and a huge thank you for all you do from Jolly Back!