Sunday, July 19, 2009

Parents banned from sports day - an update

A while back I blogged about a case reported in the Telegraph about parents being banned from sports day on a security risk issue. I was so upset by this that I fired off an email to the organiser. Well, he wrote back.

I'm going to pick some of what he said in a very long email:
Dear Mr Bruton,

Thank you for your e-mail and consequently an opportunity to hopefully set the record straight. As is often the case, these stories are picked up and the facts twisted (or carefully ommitted) by the "journalists" (I believe this story was syndicated by a local media agency) until they have a stereotypical "political correctness/health and safety gone mad" article on which they can hang an inflammatory headline with which to reinforce the views of their general readership.

Firstly, it was not a school sports day as reported, but an organised athletics event involving 270 children from 20 different lower schools within my partnership. All the schools in the partnership organise and run their own sports day on their own site to which, as has always traditionally been the case, parents can attend to support their children.

This event was taking place on the Upper School site as that is where the athletics track is placed, the school is a closed and gated site for security reasons (all schools tend to be these days). As with all schools, site security is very important, and anybody coming into a school to visit normally needs to be signed in and accompanied. The athletics track shares changing and toilet facilities with the school, therefore if any spectators needed to use the toilet (and the event lasts for 2 and a half hours) then they would have to go into the school building to do so. Furthermore, there is insufficient parking to deal with large numbers of spectators wishing to attend - the school's main car park is full of staff and sixth former's cars all day. The school also sits within a housing estate and there is little parking available on the roads nearby.

The event was also taking place during the period when the Upper School pupils were taking important examinations. It would also be running over the host school's break time, which means we would also have hundreds of Upper pupils on the school fields for 20 minutes.

When organising the event, we had to consider all of the above information, and part of that process involves producing a risk assessment. In planning this event, I had 1 major concern: the potentially large number of parents or carers who might want to come and spectate. I had to consider the impact this would have firstly in terms of disruption to the host school and the education of its pupils, and secondly the potential risks to pupils from all schools from having large numbers of adults on the site. And yes, within a risk assessment you list all risks, which for this event includes the potential for harm to, or abduction of, a child from the site; we also include risks of theft, damage to property, accidents to children/adults from extra traffic when the buses are dropping schools off etc. etc.

Hopefully you can see that the key reason for not allowing parents to attend was logistical: the host school just is not set up to deal with large numbers of spectators, and the disruption would've been detrimental to the smooth running of the school and the education of its pupils
And I wrote back to him tonight about it. I can sympathise with him about it, but have to compare what they did with a recent event organised up here in Yorkshire that took place after school, the parents all came along, parked where they could and had a bloody great time. Children ran around everywhere, parents were all over the place and generally everything went smoothly. I can see his problem, I really can, and agree that the Telegraph just picked up on the one aspect of it.

On a more generalist note, the need for schools to be a secure site is one of those strange things - on the one hand I understand it, but on the other I don't necessarily believe it actually works.

It's like the argument over ID cards - the solution doesn't actually address the problem. I used to work in a particularly difficult secondary school in Birmingham. One of those schools that just survive by keeping the children in the classrooms, teaching is a bonus, that sort of thing. We regularly used to have intruders on site. The secure nature of the site made absolutely no difference whatsoever. What was required was exactly what was required 30 years ago - adults or children reporting the intruders and then adults (and often police) seeing them off the site. All the complex security measures at the front gate, all the signing in systems, all the fences didn't keep these intruders out. But it did make the whole place seem designed to confine the children. Not what we were after.

And whilst I remember, all of this feeds into the views of the wider world that all adults are dangerous to children.

There's an implication in the world today that all adults, particularly all men who even show any interest in children are a threat to those children's safety.

And that's offensive to me as a man, as a father and as a member of staff in a primary school.

A related article I came across on this:

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