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Bureaucracy creates a ‘blanket of blandness’ in education – Headmaster’s New Year Blog

January 3, 2014

‘The need to record everything, to risk assess every activity, has made schools guarded; no longer prepared to challenge the reluctant child’, says Peter Tait, Headmaster of Sherborne arnewlowresPreparatory School writing recently for The Telegraph.
I couldn’t agree more with Mr Tait! We continue to offer a huge range of activities and school trips at Ballard – both curricular and extra-curricular ones. However, my heart sinks as each time a trip is proposed I have to ask the now not so willing member of staff to fill in a huge wad of paperwork! We all accept the need for sensible health and safety precautions, for good practice and for our duty of care to be to the fore. It is wearing and somewhat off-putting for every activity on a trip to be assessed – such as a walk along a seaside promenade or a trip on a regular train service – but I suppose we need to be aware of every possible contingency.
My real concern lies in the final part of Mr Tait’s observation above: an increasing reluctance by some schools ‘to challenge the reluctant child’. In another Telegraph article, Dr Tim Hands, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, decries the growing number of young people fixated by social media sites to the exclusion of lots of traditional childhood pastimes which helps build confidence, stimulates curiosity and develops healthy habits. The National Trust last year promoted a scheme featuring ‘50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ years old’ (including tree climbing, flying a kite, building a den and playing in the rain) and we are now entering a year to commemorate 100 years since the launch of the Brownies. Just this morning the BBC News commended this movement for its emphasis on good ‘old fashioned’ activities which included climbing, cooking and camping.
We shall continue to look for ways to challenge our young people inside and outside of the classroom. We shall do so sensibly and carefully, of course, but we shall do our utmost not to fall into a morass of inactivity simply because we can’t be bothered to fill in the paperwork or don’t want to take a well-thought through risk. The challenge for parents and young people is for the latter to come forward to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, the cross-country team, the craft club (etc) despite the hard work, the time commitment and, occasionally, the disappointment and failure. For all of us older than 11 ¾ years there are still many things to do before we are 99 ¾ years old!
Best wishes for 2014,

Alastair Reid (Headmaster Ballard School)

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