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Monday, 12 August, 2002, 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK
Are schools right to restrict children's play?
A "caution of culture" has overtaken UK schools, with too many fearing that children's games could result in legal bills, according to two children's charities.
A survey of 500 children up to the age of 15 by the Children's Society and Children's Play Council found that schools are banning childhood games from daisy-chain making to performing handstands for fear children might injure themselves or catch germs.
The charities are calling on every council and school in Britain to carry out a "daisy chain audit" to uncover the extent of bans on children's play.
Experts have suggested that restricting children's play may contribute to the growing levels of childhood obesity.
Should schools be restricting children's play? Or is it wrong to put the school ahead of the child?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
S.R. Zakria, UK
Children need to express themselves through their play, unsupervised and uninhibited as much as is safely possible. They will have accidents, but usually it's nothing serious, and play is essential for learning social skills.
Kids have no fear and they need to learn, and some things are only learnt by experience. The next thing is we will be protecting our kids from teenage broken hearts by preventing all social contact.
This is a ridiculous situation. Not only does it ultimately direct already scarce resources away from our kids' education, but it will breed a generation of kids who think frivolous lawsuits are the norm. If we think these parasitic personal injury lawyers are a problem now, just wait another 20 years.
Many US schools have had to remove ALL play equipment, benches, etc from their playgrounds after a burglar successfully sued a school he broke in to when he fell over a climbing frame! My daughter has a wonderful, happy, balanced school life, including grazed knees and the odd hole in her cardigan. It's not the school's fault my child has no control over her feet!!!
Teachers may have a responsibility to act "in locum parentis" but exactly how far should these responsibilities go? Does Charles honestly believe that children are never involved in accidents or injure themselves when they are in the care of their parents? Perhaps he would be happy for his own children to sue him if they have an accident while in his care since be his definition he would be guilty of neglect or sheer idleness.
Either the parents sue the school because their organic, undisciplined brat scraped a knee, or because said child gets fat and unhealthy from lack of exercise.
My wife's LEA was sued as a child broke both arms in her PE class jumping off a 2" high box onto a mat. She was supposed to have anticipated that he was not capable of doing a turning jump that his classmates were doing. All the associated costs add up, the inspectors who had to check the equipment, the supply teachers whilst my wife and her head were at barristers' meetings, and in court. This also doesn't take into account the distress it caused to her, and the massive knock it gave her confidence. Would she give up teaching if we could afford it? You bet your life she would!
Before you sue your kids school because little Billy cracked his head on the floor you should stop to think where the cash will come from should you win. The school won't have funds to settle your frivolous lawsuit; the money will be taken directly from the funds that pay for the education of every child at that school. Leave the suing of schools to parents that have had children blown off cliffs in France or washed away down rivers.
Parents do expect higher standards of care from schools, and need to see that efforts are taken to prevent accidents. However, the blame culture, fuelled by greedy litigation firms will kill all recreation. Now that some firms are stopping people in shopping centres in order to get business, we will end up with more and more of this. The losers? The children...
This is the fault of the legal system. If a few judges awarded punitive costs against these chancers trying to make a quick buck out of their kids' injuries and their lawyers, the litigation culture would change.
Being a parent I cannot understand why so many of these innocent games are banned by schools. I grew up making daisy chains and playing running games in the playground. Falling over and hurting yourself are all part of growing up. Perhaps the parents should look to their own childhood and refresh their memories as to what being a child is really like instead of possibly stifling the mental growth of the adults of the future.
If the schools weren't so afraid of the children they teach - and afraid of the parents, too - then they might be prepared to allow children to be children. Not many schools seem to have areas where daisies even grow any more - can't think of many London schools where a daisy chain would hold more than a few seconds before petrol fumes melt it. Children are encouraged to play on games consoles for a very good reason; it keeps them quiet. Much easier to talk when you're not engaged in ritualistic combat with barbarian hordes and lots of hi-tech weaponry.
I heard on Radio 4 this morning that they have now stopped children doing long jump with a sandpit in some schools. Has our society gone mad? Too many do gooders and too many fools listening to them. Life is competitive - that's what makes leaders in life. What a sad life we now lead when our children cannot even partake of even a basic sports event.
In the school where my daughter helps out as a voluntary assistant, she is not allowed to put a plaster on a child's knee if it falls and hurts itself without the child's parent first being contacted for permission to do so. Would it not be possible for all parents to sign a form, consenting to children taking part in what most of us would see as normal play and sports activities, and those who did not want their little darlings to do so, could sign another form saying so, thus placing the responsibility squarely back on the parents. I suspect that most of those who sue do so merely because they see the chance of making a bit of cash, not out of any real concern for their children anyway.
The general feeling amongst my colleagues is that if you take children out on trips and anything happens to them, even if it was their fault, you will be left to twist in the wind with your career finished. It's just too big a risk to take.
This is a symptom of the age in which we live. People today find it hard to tolerate the idea that as a species we are still as vulnerable as the rest of the animal kingdom to diseases and accidents. Parents in particular seem keen to place blame if any harm befalls their cherubic offspring. But to be fair, the press bombard us with horror stories of a minority of cases, and this scares parents into keeping their children wrapped up in cotton wool. Parents need to be cautious, but at the end of the day, you can't protect your children 100% of the time. We all have to take our chances in life.
Yet again we see the results of the solicitors no-win no-fee mob. What do people expect?
I lived in Germany and hated it because it was the exact opposite of the UK in that in the UK, everything is allowed that is not expressed forbidden. In Germany, everything is forbidden that is not expressly allowed. It seems we were just lagging behind.
I am a gymnastics coach, and we have noticed that children have been suffering from the lack of physical play for many years. Now we get 5 year-olds who come to join the club and don't even know how to run. I do not mean "run correctly", rather have no concept of running because they are not allowed to do so in school, and are not allowed out to play unsupervised.
As to the "blame and litigation culture" that is the norm in the UK now, we were almost prevented from continuing at the school we meet at because the County Council's legal department were not 100% certain that the insurance arranged by our sports governing body covered every obscure circumstance.
If this attitude becomes normal there will be no sports clubs because insurance will become so expensive as to become unviable.
Why not just cover children in bubble wrap before they go anywhere or do anything?
To take up Rich's point, why not cover certain contingency-fee scheme solicitors in bubble wrap and tape them up very firmly, and let children play as they always have?
Don't blame the schools or the teachers. The buck stops with you the parents. If parents weren't so much the whiners that they have become, then this would not be an issue. If a child falls over and breaks a leg, it's an accident. But for some reason there is no such thing as an accident any more. I sincerely hope that schools stop playtime and school trips completely. Then those parents who sue at the drop of a hat can explain to their kids why they can't go out.
Is it just me or has the country gone mad? Next you'll be telling me that schools no longer encourage competitive sports.
Re: Gary Roberts comments about competitive sports. I've got news for you Gary - they DON'T encourage competitive sports!
Gary: Unfortunately my mother-in-law is a teacher and she has been advised that any pupil whether they win or lose should be given the same encouragement. What message are we trying to send here?
It isn't all the fault of the legal system, but rather the modern day litigation culture. It is the threat of litigation that the schools and councils are defending themselves against, since just to settle all the cases would break the bank as much as fighting them all would.
What a sad, sad world we live in when innocent childhood pastimes can result in massive legal action. Rather than banning everything in sight, perhaps we should be considering a serious overhaul of our legal system.
Children learn by their mistakes. Preventing those mistakes, no matter how painful, will result in a generation of kids who don't understand danger or risk, and will always look for someone else to blame. The main cause of this is the legislation which allows people to sue others for compensation despite being to blame themselves.
If our children are stopped from playing outside, who do we have to blame?
The answer is ourselves. If parents weren't so quick to sue the school every time Johnny cut his knee, we wouldn't be in this ridiculous situation.
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