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