Break with tradition
A study of the playtimes of 1,000 children in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Lancashire led researcher Sarah Thomson to conclude that many playgrounds are as "barren, sterile and unimaginative" as they were 30 or 40 years ago. Football had been banned in three of the six primaries she surveyed, and British Bulldog forbidden in all of them, as were conkers - deemed to be "an offensive weapon because there had been parental complaints about injuries". Skipping ropes were outlawed in one school because girls had wrapped them around their necks and used them to tie their legs together for three-legged races. One head is quoted as saying he would like to ban all playtimes as they were a nightmare.
While Sarah Thomson feels that some staff are overprotective, she says there is pressure on schools to play safe. Teachers' cncerns have been heightened by a recent MORI poll, in which 57 per cent of parents said they would seek compensation if their child was injured and they felt staff were to blame. OFSTED criticism is another concern - two of the schools surveyed had received negative comments about playground procedures in recent reports.
Health and safety regulations pose another problem. They protect visitors and contractors, but not pupils, so the burden of such issues is often left for heads to deal with.
Sarah Thomson says it is important not to exaggerate the scale of the problem, although "it seems that the search for a safe, disciplined playground... is as real a constraint to freedom as the iron railings and wooden fencing that prevent children leaving the premises".
Playground or Playpound: the contested terrain of the primary playground, by Sarah Thomson, Department of Education, Keele University. E-mail: edd03@ educ.keele.ac.uk