A working group was set up in autumn 1997 to examine the potential problems caused by the weight of heavy school bags. The terms of reference of the working group were to consider the issue of heavy school bags and in particular the extent of the problem, the factors which contribute to the problem and possible implications of the problem, particularly for the health of pupils. The group was also asked to formulate proposals to alleviate problems associated with the weight of schoolbags. The group presented its report in July 1998. Its report outlined a number of recommendations that have implications, not only for my Department, but also for schools, parents and publishers.
My Department, at primary and post-primary levels, initiated an awareness raising campaign by disseminating the report, with an accompanying circular, to all primary and post-primary schools. Information leaflets and posters were distributed to all schools, highlighting the potential health hazard of heavy schoolbags and outlining a range of local measures that could be adopted in order to alleviate the problem.
The report recommended that schools create an awareness of the potential problem of heavy schoolbags throughout their school community and assess the problem within their own schools. Schools should give consideration to this issue when formulating their homework and timetabling policies. The report also recommended that schools include correct lifting and carrying techniques as part of their health education programmes.
It is a matter for each individual school to choose those measures that would be most suitable to its individual needs.
The report also recommended that my Department should examine the feasibility of providing for appropriate storage facilities in future specifications for furniture manufacturers. Accordingly, the building unit of my Department is examining the possibility of incorporating storage facilities in the provision of furniture in the future. Furthermore, as recommended in the report, my Department continues to afford schools the option of book storage in the case of new second level schools.