A survey carried out by Play England and the British Toy and Hobby Association has revealed that almost 75% of parents believe that their children are overprotected by the Health and Safety rules in schools. While parents are grateful that safety is being taken seriously as an issue, they also feel that the abundance of rules hampers the capacity for ‘boisterous play’, which was the staple of many of their own childhoods.
In the survey it was found that, on average, each child gets around 37 minutes of time to play freely during the school day. Dr Amanda Gummer, a psychologist who works in tandem with the British Toy and Hobby Association, said that: “Children are growing up without the opportunity to learn how to assess risks. Children have to have bumps and scrapes to teach them what’s safe and what’s not. Children who have all elements of danger removed from their lives grow up to think they are invincible. This doesn’t just affect the accidents they might have when riding a bike or exploring a river, but it has a knock-on effect in terms of drug culture and gang violence”.
Part of the problem seems to be that, with the number of personal Injury lawsuits levied against schools increasing over recent years, schools are now much more risk averse. They would rather manage their pupils’ play to what the majority of parents see as an extreme, than risk being sued. Catherine Prisk, one-time teacher and current Associate Director of Play England observes that: “A generation of teachers has been trained to prevent all forms of play-fighting in the playground. But rough and tumble play is vital for all children, particularly for boys, who learn social skills through free, physical play that they simply cannot learn in other ways”.
Finding the Middle ground.
However, despite their misgivings that Health and Safety was becoming too intrusive, the majority of the 2,000 parents interviewed for the survey believed that their children’s safety should be a priority within schools. Is there a middle ground that serves both purposes? Headteacher, Faye Kitchen, believes there is.
In 2007, Faye introduced a new play scheme at Bromley Heath School in Gloucestershire. As part of a venture to reduce the amount of playground bullying that was taking place, Faye decided to change the rules where play was concerned. Her theory was that “children need and want to take risks when they play.” The main rule change she approved was that children at her school were only allowed to hit each other with toys. While this may sound like the pendulum swinging in the other direction, the results were better than she could have hoped for. “There were accidents at the beginning because the children were used to playtime being about speed and aggression but, once they got used to the fact that they had to take responsibility for their own safety, the accidents disappeared almost entirely”.
Since 2007, there have been more and more Government rules concerning the safety of children in school. While we all want our children to be safe, there is also an argument that it is sometimes best to let children be children.