The ex ex­pat

From can­celled sports days to banned play­ground pas­times, Kate Birch blasts Bri­tain’s ridicu­lous health and safety rul­ings

Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

Kate Birch laments and lam­basts Bri­tish school au­thor­i­ties for in­ject­ing para­noia into health and safety mea­sures.

My seven-year-old son re­turned

from his new school the other day, lip jut­ting out, arms folded, head hang­ing, and gloomily handed me a let­ter. Sports day, due to take place the fol­low­ing week, was can­celled, ow­ing to the 30°C heat. Now, I’m all for keep­ing my kids safe in the sun, slap­ping on sun­screen and dish­ing out wa­ter, but a cou­ple of short sprints in a pretty pain­less 30 de­grees – that’s a de­li­ciously cool Dubai day – isn’t danger­ous, is it?

Be­ing new to Eng­land’s ed­u­ca­tional and cli­matic land­scape, I polled some other par­ents, but none seemed sur­prised or irked. “You can never be too care­ful, can you?” was the stock re­sponse. Sur­prised but suit­ably scolded, I kept my, “Oh, I think you can!” come­back to my­self, took a deep breath, counted to 10, and let it go.

Well for 12 hours any­way… be­cause the fol­low­ing day, I dis­cov­ered from an equally miffed mum, who like me was stalk­ing the school play­ground in search of an ally, that the pre­vi­ous year’s sports day had also been can­celled. Not be­cause of the heat (Eng­land gets a hot sum­mer roughly once a gen­er­a­tion) but be­cause of the rain.

Yes, rain… that inof­fen­sive stuff that falls on Eng­land’s green and pleas­ant land pretty much ev­ery other day of the year. Deep breath, count to 10…

And yet this wasn’t quite as ridicu­lous as when poor mums and dads at a pri­mary school in Es­sex, just a few days later, also re­ceived a let­ter. Their sports day wasn’t can­celled though, they were just banned from at­tend­ing it. The rea­son? Per­for­mance in pub­lic might stress out the lit­tle lambs.

For­give me, I’m not a mean mother. I care for my chil­dren’s safety, se­cu­rity and feel­ings, but even by the most cau­tious mother’s stan­dards, this is the Nanny State gone potty. And it’s get­ting pot­tier by the day. Just a few days af­ter “sport-gate”, lol­lipop man Roger Green (he helps kids cross busy roads. Kids still walk in Eng­land) from an­other English pri­mary school was or­dered to stop greet­ing pupils with friendly high-fives. It was, said the coun­cil, too “danger­ous”, putting kids at road ac­ci­dent risk and con­fus­ing driv­ers.

And the list of bonkers bans goes on. With so many mad­den­ing health and safety hoops through which teach­ers and par­ents must jump, life’s sim­ple plea­sures (high-fiv­ing friends) and tra­di­tional pur­suits (play­ing conkers and com­pet­ing in pan­cake races) are in peril.

Take the lat­est English school sport­ing con­cep­tion, Scut­tle­ball. A re­place­ment for rounders, which has been deemed too risky and too com­pet­i­tive, Scut­tle­ball is a non-con­tact, stand still and “only-get-the-ball­when-you’re-told-by-teach­ers-to-doso” game that guar­an­tees no ac­ci­dents (the kids hardly move), no tears (ev­ery­one’s a win­ner) and, well… In the play­ground there have been bans on play­ing with yo-yos, kick­ing hard foot­balls and run­ning absolutely no fun what­so­ever. As for get­ting fit, for­get it.

Kids th­ese days have taken to bunk­ing off PE lessons, not be­cause they’re too tough, but they’re so bor­ingly easy. And this from a na­tion that only last year dur­ing its Lon­don Olympics suc­cess, pledged to “in­spire young peo­ple to choose sport”.

But it’s not just sport suf­fer­ing. All man­ner of seem­ingly safe plea­sures are be­ing moth­balled, with teach­ers anx­ious about even blow­ing their noses in case some­one sues for spread­ing germs. In art lessons, pupils have to wear gog­gles to han­dle – wait for it – Blu Tack; at the end of the school day, lit­tle ones no longer put their chairs on their desks in case one falls back on them; and in the play­ground, there have been bans on play­ing with yo-yos, kick­ing hard foot­balls (sponge sub­sti­tutes have been brought in) and pos­si­bly the most ridicu­lous of all, a ban on run­ning in the play­ground, which by the way has been cov­ered in a cush­ioned ma­te­rial to stop kids get­ting bruises when they fall.

While no par­ent wants to see their child bruised, is pro­tect­ing them com­pletely from all of life’s pres­sures, stresses and pain re­ally in their best in­ter­ests? Not only are such strin­gent safety mea­sures cramp­ing our chil­dren’s en­joy­ment, but it’s mak­ing them riska­verse and ill-pre­par­ing them for real life. It’s th­ese sani­tised six-year-olds scared of their own shad­ows (which as we speak have not yet been out­lawed from the play­ground) who, in a few decades, will be com­pet­ing on the world stage. Imag­ine.

And so in a fit of parental pique I de­cided to take a stand, to “save sports day”, ul­ti­mately to save all cot­ton wool­wrapped kids. I ap­proached the lo­cal leisure cen­tre and race­course for help, re­quest­ing their in­door fa­cil­i­ties for two hours for 200 chil­dren in ex­change for plenty of “we saved sports day” pub­lic­ity and neigh­bour­hood good­will. Af­ter days of dither­ing de­lib­er­a­tion – and no doubt trawl­ing through health and safety man­u­als – their re­sponse: “No”.

I was dis­ap­pointed but de­cided I would bat­tle on to save fu­ture gen­er­a­tions from a life de­void of fun.

But be­fore that, I’ll need to pop to the shops in my ul­tra-safe car, bub­blewrap my­self as I go shop­ping for cot­ton wool to wrap my son in, lock and alarm the car in its off-road park­ing space, turn off the house in­truder sys­tem and plonk my­self down on the fire-re­tar­dant sofa with my mul­ti­ple pass­word pro­tected iPad. Af­ter all, you can’t be too care­ful, can you?

Over­worked, over­whelmed and over there... long-term Dubai ex­pat Kate Birch misses

her maid, strug­gles with small talk and is des­per­ate for some­one

to pack her shop­ping

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