What's wrong with conker fights?

20th July 2007 at 01:00
We must use common sense over risks and litigation, says Ed Balls

heads who ban snowball fights for fear of being hit by compensation claims have been challenged by Ed Balls, the Secretary for Children, Schools and Families. He said children should not be wrapped in cotton wool.

"You have to have as a society some common sense and that applies to the legal system," said Mr Balls. "The idea that as a society people are not playing with snowballs because of a compensation culture isn't the kind of society I want to live in."

His comments come as it emerged that pound;2 million was paid out last year to children injured on school property.

He said: "Headteachers have to make that judgment in schools. My assumption is that if it snows, kids go out and build snowmen and have snowball fights and in October kids play conkers."

He is proposing that parents are given more information on assessing what is risky. Schools are already expected to teach children about safety as part of the personal, social and health education.

The Government is to carry out research to find which are the best resources. A training module on the subject will be created for PSHE teachers. And a national awards scheme will be created to help improve children's safety.

Fear of injury may lead some parents to be overcautious, but there are other risks, such as internet chatrooms which are underestimated, said Mr Balls. Some are more vulnerable: children from poor families are 13 times more likely to die from unintentional injury.

New powers are being introduced to help schools discipline pupils who cause trouble, which include the power for schools to punish pupils who bully on the way to and from school.

The department has proposed that anti-bullying policies in schools are now extended to groups such as children's homes, extended school services FE college and youth groups.

Mr Balls said: "My predecessors have strengthened the rights of teachers to take action to tackle bullying. There is a role for government in preventing harm. But the message of this document is that responsibility for adressing these issues isn't fundamentally for government, it is for parents. There is a balance that has to be struck."

John Gribble, head of Bretton Woods community school in Peterborough, where children were suspended for snowballing earlier this year, said he agreed with Mr Balls. He said his 15 and 16-year-olds were suspended for disobeying orders to return to class.

"What every school must do is take care of students and teachers, whether that is when they are snowballing, playing basketball or football," said Mr Gribble. "I take children skiing. You have to take appropriate precautions but it is not a problem. The problem comes when a group of young people do not obey those guidelines."

Health and safety guidelines have to be crystal clear and unflinchingly enforced, he said.

The Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto was launched in November 2006 to help schools plan trips. "The best schools are trying to raise the sights and level of ambition of children and see school trips as a crucial way of opening up children's eyes to new opportunities," said Mr Balls. "School trips are a critical part of the curriculum."

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