Page 8, 14th June 2002

14th June 2002
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Page 8, 14th June 2002 — Playing safe with children's lives
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Playing safe with children's lives

Education

Philippa Toomey

Each time there is a tragic death on a school trip, every parent, governor and teacher feels immense sympathy, and some fear, because it could have happened to us, careful though we are.

There has been a steady progression in the belief that our children are in danger. I well remember an annual meeting after Dunblane, where children and teachers were attacked and killed by a gunman, who shot himself. We were all deeply affected by this, but we had three parents who were literally hysterical at the prospect of sending their children to a school without "security". Rational discussion of the level of risk was quite out of the question. It came to an end with a parent saying she did not want her child educated in the equivalent of a prison yard.

Since then, as it happens, we have a wire fence erected on the top of our 4ft brick walls, and a gate you have to dial in, and a CCTV camera which gives four pictures in the office — each way up and down the street, one of the gate, one of the path to the door. Are we "safer"? We are from intruders (always rare) and from sneak thieves and possibly burglars. But the aggression, if it appears seems to come from parents, a new and disturbing aspect in our lives.

Similarly, a terrible tragedy involving children in a minibus raised all kinds of questions about our minibus. The accident should never have happened (like all accidents). A teacher, who had worked all day, drove the children to a concert, and was driving back when a fatal crash occurred. We now monitor the safety of the bus, the designated drivers, and the bus now has seat belts.

The secondary school where I am chairman of the governors now has high wire fences round the entire building, and no once goes out to lunch except the sixth form. This is partly to maintain discipline — no wandering about the shops, arriving back late. Lunch has been cut to three quarters of an hour. This did not save us from two boys being stabbed in the road outside the school. Fortunately, they were not severely injured, but it was an indication of the times in which we live.

School journeys are a part of school life — much looked forward to, but a major worry. The primary school children go to the Isle of Wight for a week. We know the place well, but even so, no one swims, only paddles, with one member of the staff in the water facing the shore (no one goes further than that), and another on the shore keeping watch. No one can always anticipate (or imagine) what small children will do, but for the staff, it's no holiday.

Risk assessment has overtaken us all — some time ago when a child fell over and hurt himself in the playground we were asked for our "risk assessment" of the playground and the Head had to go away and write one. We had never heard of such a thing.

Risk assessments now cover every area. Whether thy prevent accidents is a moot point, but at least everyone is aware f the possibilities. But are we overprotective of out children, walking (or driving) them to school, never letting them encounter any challenge?

As i went into the British Museum the other day, a French coach was parked outside. The left-hand driver was next to the pavement and, on the other side, the children were getting out of the door straight into the traffic.

Risk assessment? Nul points.




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