Health and safety forces headteachers forced to pick up dirty needles and condoms


By Rory Reynolds

HEADTEACHERS are having to pick up dirty needles and condoms from school grounds because health and safety prevents cleaners from removing them, according to a new government report.

A poll of 1,137 school rectors across Scotland has revealed that there is increasing concern that they are having to stop “undesirables” from entering that school grounds, while clearing up after youths “dubious night-time activities”.

The Scottish Government paper, which was researched by academics from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Cambridge universities, has also shown that often headteachers find themselves liable for everything that happens across the school site, despite the fact that

The report, titled Recruitment and Retention of Headteachers in Scotland, said: “One of the most worrying concerns for heads was health and safety.

“Many of the routine tasks which they undertook, it was claimed, were in breach of rules and were accomplished because janitors were not allowed to undertake them.“Heads were aware that such actions could also land them in trouble because they cut across union agreements.


“Often heads discovered their accountability for anything that happens within the school site, even thought the school grounds may provide a public thoroughfare and venue for young people whose sometimes dubious night-time activities left health hazards.

“These tasks were taken on because they felt that there was nobody to whom to delegate them and because, at the end of the day, it was heads who saw themselves as accountable for ensuring that they were attended to.”

The report also states that, headteachers found “petty” local bureaucracy and “spurious political correctness” among their main obstacles.

It noted that trivial tasks such as repairing broken windows, painting over graffiti and planting flowers in the grounds would require filling out forms for the council.

Professor John MacBeath, chair of educational leadership at Cambridge, said that he had listened to “heart-rending” accounts from teachers who were frustrated at their hands being tied with bureaucratic tape.

As lead author of the paper, he reported that 57 per of heads were “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the Government’s educational policies, with one third saying that had “very little autonomy”.

It was found that 66 per cent worked more than 50 hours per week with a small group working over 80 hours.


Prof. MacBeath added: “Although some of them are very angry these are highly dedicated professional people.

“They wouldn’t be working 60-odd hours a week if they weren’t completely committed to doing the very best job.”

The report was first commissioned in 2007 to examine why there was a lack of high-teaching candidates applying for senior posts in education.

The School Leaders Scotland spokesman Ken Cunningham said: “Headteachers regard the safety of their staff and pupils as a paramount priority and unfortunately this does bring them into these kinds of dangerous situations.

“They will not walk away, but we strongly advise them to take every precaution.”

Education secretary Fiona Hyslop said that the concerns reported on in the paper would be followed up by the department.

She said: “This report highlights the pressures headteachers experience.

“We need to ensure they are properly supported and developed to help them thrive and encourage more teachers to see the benefits senior positions offer.”

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