I have just read an interesting post by Tara Cain ‘Wringing Every Last Drop Out of School. In it she describes her frustration at the restrictions that now abound the primary school and the playground specifically. She mentions how the list of banned things is growing ever longer with such things as football swap cards, hand stands & cartwheels.She (& many of those who left comments ) feel very sad and cross that these simple activities are now being stopped, many in the name of Health & Safety.
It has become a really difficult position for schools to take over recent years. It is primarily due to the proliferation of challenges that are now quite common place in this increasingly ‘blame society’ when what was previously ‘an accident’ happens.
As a head teacher I was fortunate to have a large playground. Unfortunately it sloped rather badly. Although the ‘before-school’ game of football was at the top, the ball had a habit of finding its way to the bottom where parents would stand chatting possibly with pushchairs. Imagine the response from some parents if the ball made contact (or even possible contact) with them?
Swap cards are great when everyone knows the rules and abides by them. However, they can cause all manner of arguments which can be taken out of school then brought back in magnified into almost turf war! I have had parents coming in demanding to see me about the squabble that has occurred over these cards and asking for children to be expelled!
Of course the school does have a responsibility to help children learn to play in an appropriate way. We are trying to develop citizens of the future and they need to understand that compromise, fair play and keeping to the rules are really important. For schools this translates into resources.
Incidents that start in the playground before school can rumble on all day. Teachers are expected to get on with teaching as soon as children come in. There are some parents for instance, who would object to learning time being taken up by two children who have had a falling out in the playground.
Having someone supervising the playground is one way forward. However, that is again a resource situation. Teachers do take it in turns to supervise the playground but they do have their classrooms to prepare and lessons to get ready. In some situations, the new teachers do not fair well in these early morning exchanges and that can have a detrimental effect on their teaching day. An additional body such as a learning mentor is an ideal substitute on the playground but unfortunately with budget cuts, this is one role that some schools are considering removing.
The result of all this is that many incidents end up at the head teacher’s door. Like class teachers they do have a great deal to do each day and some of these occurrences can take a great deal of time to get to the bottom of.
So sadly schools have almost reverted to the lowest common denominator and consider where are the complaints going to come from? If parents are going to be upset and not accept ‘it was an accident’, schools will do what they can to prevent the accident.
I know many of the commenters on Tara’s post felt that schools were taking things too far but maybe those writers are the exceptional few. Maybe it is about the different expectations of parents not only to the school but to some of their peers. For example not all parents would be happy for girls’ pants to be seen when they are doing hand stands etc. Schools are in a very difficult situation where they are expected to keep all the people happy all of the time and as we know that is impossible. By banning these activities schools are taking the approach that time will not be wasted on these concerns but on teaching and learning for all the children.
It is sad and I feel really sorry for the children who may miss out on these experiences but perhaps we need to look at parental responsibilities as well. Perhaps too many children arrive at school expecting to always get what they want and being right. Perhaps too many parents view school as a free child minding service and therefore are not interested in the learning in the classroom but will make a huge fuss over playground antics.
I do not know what the answer is. School s and parents want to have a relationship that is built on understanding and support for children. ‘The Open Door’ is a much used but very important aspect for that relationship. So let’s see what we could come up with.
I know – if the school undertook a survey asking if parents would support the maxim that (within reason) ‘accidents and squabbles do happen’ would you sign up to it?