Monday, 7 August 2017

OFSTED and Adventure in the Playground

For those who do not know, the lady in the adventure playground pictured above is Amanda Spielman, the new Head of OFSTED, the schools inspection service. Like her predecessors, Ms Spielman has begun her tenure as OFSTED Supremo by making an amazing non-discovery about something amiss in education unnoticed by previous holders of the post. Well, it's one way of making an impression, I suppose. 
Ms Spielman has set out to stamp her authority upon schools and education in general by accusing schools of mollycoddling pupils. As the BBC says:
"Teachers must stop trying to wrap children in cotton wool with over-the-top health and safety policies, the chief inspector of schools has said.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Amanda Spielman said it stopped the children developing resilience and grit".
She notes with displeasure that schools are over cautious in their Health and Safety measures such as banning conkers, yo-yos and making children wear high-visibility jackets on school trips. The Chief Inspector goes on to say:
"My message to schools is this - keeping children safe from harm should always be your overriding concern but... make sure you distinguish between real and imagined risk.Trying to insulate your pupils from every bump, germ or bruise won't just drive you to distraction, it will short-change those pupils as well, limiting their opportunity to fully take advantage of the freedom of childhood..."
On the surface, this appears to be fair comment; those of us over a certain age often remark that today's children don't have the freedoms we had, but I'll leave that for later.
We should first take a look at Ms Spielman and the way MPs reacted to her application to become OFSTED boss.Put simply,the Education sub-Committee did not want to give her the job. Ms Spielman is not a qualified teacher and thus lacks experience of schools and school administration, which is not ideal training for her present role. I am no fan of OFSTED, as readers of this blog well know, but at least previous Chief Inspectors had worked at the chalkface and taught in the classroom. Without that experience, a crucial understanding of the pressures upon teaching staff is lacking.
Besides this, Ms Spielman, as the BBC says:
"... failed to show "passion" or an understanding of the "complex role", education select committee MPs said". 
In spite of this, Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, overruled the sub-committee's misgivings and Amanda Spielman was given the job. Hardly a promising start!
It is also useful to examine Ms Spielman's concerns about excessive Health and Safety regulations in schools. These measures receive a good deal of attention in the media from time to time, and it's worth looking back over some of them.
1. There was a primary school in Leeds which banned the game of "Tig".
2. The old playground game of "British Bulldogs" is seemingly banned in many schools. In 2011, over a quarter of 653 school staff surveyed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said it had been banned from their school.
3. Schools in Wiltshire, Cumbria and Clackmannanshire introduced a ban on conkers over fears the horse chestnuts could trigger anaphylactic reactions.
4. In January, birthday cakes were banned at a Blackpool primary school as teachers "do not have time" to check ingredients for pupils with allergies.
On the face of it, our schools are overrun by rules that are preventing a whole generation of our children from having fun and experiencing the world. As a primary teacher for 34 years, now retired, I can attest that this is a purely superficial impression. If we examine the evidence, it is only one school out of thousands that has banned "Tig" - I have never encountered such a ban on this game or "Bulldog". As for the conkers ban, please note: only three LEAs banned conkers. In my experience, children do not play conkers because they regard this activity as being old-fashioned or simply do not know of the game. I have known birthday cakes to be banned for some children, but as a result of parental pressure, rather than a busybody school administration.
It is ridiculous to single out schools as over-protective agencies holding children back from becoming seasoned adventurers. If anything, the whole of society plays this role. Most people of my generation think we remember a golden age when our parents sent us out to play in the morning - but with firm instructions to be back in time for tea. That golden age, if it ever existed, has been transformed into abiding fears for children's safety - Mary Bell, the Moors Murderers, the killers of Jamie Bulger, Rhys Jones, Millie Dowler and many other young victims have seen to that. Schools simply reflect the anxieties of wider society on this issue.
To conclude: I am not impressed with Amanda Spielman's debut on the educational stage. In this, she is no different from previous holders of the post of Chief Inspector for Schools.

1 comment:

  1. The press likes to exaggerate what it sees as political correctness (PC-ness) or excessive health & safety (H&S). An example of the former was the misrepresentation of 'Winterval', which had nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with inclusivity.

    So it is with H&S too. Too often H&S is cited as a reason to ban or control something, when the real reason is to remove the need for supervision of the activity in question by restricting or banning it, and to eliminate the usually minimal risk of being sued.

    However, it's not uncommon among the general public to sneer at both PC-ness and H&S, until something happens affecting them or their family. It often becomes a different story then: 'they' in authority should have ensured the bad thing didn't happen.

    The blame must thus be shared among people in authority (including teachers), the media and the general public. The latter particularly need to resolve the disparity between their contempt for H&S in general and their absolute insistence on it when they are directly affected.