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Pupils crave chance to branch out alone

Children want play to include risks, survey reveals, but government maintains safety-first policy

More than three-quarters of pupils would like more opportunities to take risks while playing. And half say they are not allowed even to climb a tree without adult supervision.

The survey of 9,000 parents, children and teenagers, conducted by the charity Play England, part of the National Children's Bureau, coincides with the publication of a book calling for pupils to be given greater freedom in the playground.

In Reclaiming Childhood, academic Helene Guldberg insists that, even when the Government talks about the importance of healthy risk-taking among children, it maintains a strict safety-first policy.

For example, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, recently announced a Pounds 225 million investment to create "more safe places to play".

"Note the emphasis on supervision and regulation," says Dr Guldberg. "Children, it seems, cannot just get on with playing and making their own fun today. They need to be monitored, supervised and taught how to play."

Dr Guldberg, a child development lecturer at the Open University, argues that it is safer to be a child now than it ever has been.

According to Unicef figures, fewer than one in every 10,000 European children dies before the age of 19 as a result of accident, murder, violence or suicide.

And the Play England survey reveals that pupils are more than 100 times less likely to injure themselves in the playground than playing organised sport, such as rugby. Even non-contact sports, such as tennis or badminton, are significantly more dangerous than unsupervised play.

Tim Gill, of Play England, said: "We don't live in a risk-free world. One of the things that helps children discover the consequences of their actions is when things go wrong, or when they see other children have accidents.

"That doesn't mean we want children maiming themselves left, right and centre. But, as children grow up, they have to learn how to keep themselves reasonably safe. The old phrase, `that'll teach you', is often true."

The survey found that 77 per cent of 7- to 16-year-olds would like more opportunities to take risks while playing. In many cases, this could be as little as being allowed to climb a tree - and potentially fall off - without adult supervision.

This month, Play England publishes a guide showing how teachers can help pupils take risks and challenge themselves in the playground.

"We have to accept that children do, and always will, have accidents," says Dr Guldberg. "It is often more traumatic for the adults in their midst than the children themselves."

By over-protecting children, she argues, adults often deprive them of the freedom they need to develop. This can ultimately prove more debilitating than a scraped knee or a bruised elbow.

"It is the responsibility of adults to prepare children for a full and independent life, not to protect them from every conceivable risk in the wider world," she said.

`Reclaiming Childhood' by Helene Guldberg (Routledge).

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