'It is time we stopped mollycoddling our pupils'

13th August 2017 at 14:02
Amanda Spielman is right, writes one celebrated journalist – parents should not be confining their children to a risk-free environment

At last – some signs of common sense as we prepare to enter the new school year.

Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, will be issuing guidance to its inspectors warning schools that they will be marked down if they mollycoddle their pupils.

Amanda Spielman, the chief schools inspector, has criticised schools for cancelling sports days because of bad weather – one did so because of dew on the grass – and forcing pupils to wear high visibility protection jackets on school trips.

She described the latter as looking like "troupes of mini construction workers minus the hard hats".

In an article for the Sunday Telegraph, she added: "I want Ofsted to make sure that schools are properly focused on pupil safety but that it doesn't come at the expense of opportunities to broaden young minds."

Exactly – but it's not only the schools that should be paying attention to this. Some parents need to learn how to give their children a free reign, too.

I live in a quiet, rural street in Hertfordshire that just happens to have a primary school at one end, and you would be surprised how many parents living at the other end insist on driving their children to school because they fear danger lurks in them there lanes.

I grew up in a quiet rural street and can remember spending much of the summer holiday practising my bowling action by running from the other side of the road and letting the ball loose with some ferocity at a rake mounted at the other end in the garage that acted as a wicket.

There were 30 houses in the road and it ended up in a dead end, so you would probably get a maximum of four cars an hour going up and down it. The danger came, I suppose, when it rebounded from the makeshift wicket and I chased after it to prevent it going for four (ie, reaching the other side of the road).

Unhealthy generation

While I would not advocate this for today's parents (as I have shown, even in the 1960s, it was quite dangerous in Grange Avenue), I do think parents should not be confining their children to a risk-free environment. 

Similarly, too, with Ofsted inspectors when they make their judgement – otherwise we will end up breeding an unhealthy generation of youngsters. (I heard one mother talking about how her child had not left the computer since the summer holidays had started.)

This talk of enriching young minds reminds me of what else schools can offer their pupils – school trips, for example.

Take, for instance, the Children's Bookshow (backed by Tes), which brings the best writers and illustrators in the world into theatres and halls around the country to share their work with children.

I particularly like the work of one author involved with this year's events – Japanese author Megumi Iwasa and her book, Yours sincerely, Giraffe – about a giraffe who is constantly writing letters to a penguin he has never seen. Both hilariously describe what each other look like. The book is beautifully illustrated, too.

Organisers of such events will tell you it is a common occurrence for schools nowadays to say they can no longer afford to spend the money on trips out of school.

A shame, I say. When we campaign against the cuts – thankfully ameliorated in the last windfall from the government – we should remember not only to call for a restoration of teachers' jobs and the return of subjects like languages axed from the curriculum; we should stress the need to enrich pupils' lives as well.

Richard Garner was education editor of The Independent for 12 years, and previously news editor of Tes. He has been writing about education for more than three decades.

To read more columns by Richard, view his back catalogue

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