An acceptable level of risk

20th October 2000 at 01:00
KEEPING children safe is the constant worry. The first priority is physical safety. No teacher who has taken a group on a day out will feel anything other than sympathy for the leaders of the Yorkshire group that went river walking and were overcome by a spate. Recriminations and blame may lie ahead. None the less, there but for the grace of God . . .

Safety going to and from school is another concern that can keep teachers awake at night. Buses are better than cars, a letter writer claims (page two), but responsibility for the state of contract vehicles and for behaviour on them affects schools, even if legally the onus rests elsewhere. As for trips abroad, most people outwith education swing between admiration for teachers' sense of duty and amazement at their folly in risking even the remotest chance of disaster.

Protecting children from abus brings fresh difficulties. Alan Jones (ScotlandPlus, page seven) argues the case for across the board checks on adults organising and coaching school and club sports. There are similar demands for the vetting of all youth workers. Yet formidable obstacles lie in the way. The numbers involved and the risk of a mistake that would damage an adult's reputation should give a moment's pause. Would an overzealous regime put off some helpers with nothing to hide?

In childhood as in the rest of life, a level of risk is unavoidable. There has to be a balance between teaching children to cross the road and ride a bike on it, and so cosseting them that they never learn skills and taste enjoyment. Teachers, whose instincts are to enrich the lives of their pupils, have to weigh up the consequences of mistakes and sheer bad luck even more than parents.

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