Risking it all

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I had the pleasure of being invited to speak at the Northamptonshire Childminding Conference in September.


Michael Pettavel, head teacher, Brougham Street Childcare and Nursery School, Skipton

As it was centred on Healthy Lifestyles, I chose the theme of risk in order to bring some focus onto the increasingly sedentary yet over-stimulated lifestyle opportunities for many under-fives (and beyond), in contrast with the pre-virtual world of my childhood.

I feel quite strongly that the accountability agenda that infects other areas of our professional lives contributes to a never-ending cycle of fear. This is picked up neatly in Dan Gardner’s book Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear (2008). Essentially, we have to be prepared to take risks in order to allow children to do so.

I know the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents doesn’t place too much faith in the concept of common sense, but we are derelict in our duty to children if we are overly cautious because of our own fear of accountability. I understand that I am accountable, I accept this – but realistically there is a huge difference between letting a child play with a plug socket (negligence) and the skill of learning how to use a hammer safely (beneficial risk).

In order to mitigate against the fear of being hung out to dry in court, we have much to learn from the Play Association. It has a sensible yet thorough approach to risk based in ‘risk/benefit analysis’ and ‘dynamic risk assessment’, the latter being developed by emergency services to address the inevitable hazards of doing an inherently dangerous job. These allow us to plot risk in a sensible way while allowing for the unpredictability of working with young children and identifying the benefits and reasons for doing it in the first place. Call it a flowchart for common sense.

I don’t always agree with the chief inspector of schools – but in this instance, I do. In August, Amanda Spielman, writing in The Sunday Telegraph, said: ‘…keeping children safe from harm should always be your overriding concern, but … 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.’

Back in my own childhood, the words of the Play Association ring true: ‘Better a broken bone than a broken spirit.’

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