In recent years there have been numerous stories in the press regarding the madness of health and safety regulations, but with so much denial and buck-passing, it can be hard to tell what is true and what is made up. However, recent research into traditional school games has given quantifiable evidence that bureaucracy and fear of litigation is depriving children of exercise, entertainment and competitive spirit.
653 heads, teachers and support staff were questioned by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), and the results were fairly dispiriting. The majority (57%) said they felt schools were becoming increasingly risk averse, with more than a quarter of them having banned the game British bulldog. One sixth of playgrounds have banned playing with conkers while 5% have even prevented kids from using marbles. Ironically some teacher claimed that conkers are banned due to an increase in nut allergies, caused by children lacking the necessary immunity gained by playing outside more.
Tim Gill, former director of the Children’s Play Council at the National Children’s Bureau, said:
“Schools have forgotten how to give children a good childhood. Bumps and scrapes and dealing with life’s trials are part and parcel of growing into a confident and resilient person. You can only learn through experience.”
The banning of playground games has coincided with a drop in field trips due to teachers concerns about form filling, safety fears and being sued in the unlikely event of an accident occurring. Despite a massive 92% of staff believing school trips and activities are important to enhance learning, 31% said the number of school trips was in permanent decline. One teacher even explained that a week-long trip overseas had needed around 100 hours worth of planning before it was allowed to go ahead.
ATL general secretary, Mary Bousted, said:
"Teachers, lecturers, support staff and school leaders all recognise that children need to be safe, however, without encountering risk it is difficult for them to learn their own limitations."
The fear of accidents has even affected sports, with some schools now using a soft ball for football and banning tackles from rugby. Apart from changing the basic elements of the game, this stops children from ever learning how to play the actual sport in later life. We are hardly likely to find the football and rugby stars of the future if children are playing watered down versions of these sports.
Without experience of risk and competition at a young age, children enter the real world lacking a variety of vital skills. One solution would be for the government to support head teachers in restoring these traditional games. The fear of litigation and bureaucracy is forcing schools to remove necessary elements of childhood; they must feel like the government is on their side.