Banning playground games such as conkers denies pupils the right to learn through play

22nd December 2000 at 00:00
A Keele University survey has revealed that primary headteachers are banning breaktime activities such as conkers, skipping, rounders and British bulldog, for fear of legal action by parents.

A MORI poll last month also discovered that 57 per cent of parents questioned would claim compensation if their child was injured at school. How very sad, and probably unnecessary.

The risks to children during breaktimes have always been there, and short of clear and gross negligence that any ordinary person would regard as unacceptable, the courts have striven to uphold the right of children to learn from play, and to learn how to cope with risks that are not life-threatening.

In one case, an eight-year-old boy raced across a playground, stumbled and injured himself on an unrendered flint wall. The playground was not supervised at the time, and the High Court judge thought that a prudent parent of a large family would have realised that the wall was dangerous and would have required reasonable supervision.

However, this judgement was reversed unanimously in the Court of Appeal. One judge said that it was common for small boys to race between walls and occasionally fall down. In his view it would be "wrong o protect them against minor injuries by forbidding them the ordinary pleasures which schoolchildren so much enjoy".

He added that if the injury had been caused by children fighting, which a supervisor or teacher should have stopped, there may have been a cause of action.

In another case where a boy was seriously injured before school while sliding on ice in the school playground, the parents claimed that the sliding should have been stopped. The judge disagreed. He said: "If I thought that any school authorities were seriously prepared to declare that sliding on ice is a dangerous game, and should be stopped, I would feel obliged to make some sort of declaration that the children of this country are free to slide on ice in a sensible and orderly manner whenever an opportunity arises."

The teacher's duty is to ensure that children play their games in an orderly fashion, taking into account their ages and aptitudes, the numbers on the playground and the layout of the area.

Comfort should be taken by the wise words of the same judge: "Life is full of physical dangers which children must learn to recognise, and develop the ability to avoid. The playground is one of the places to learn."

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