Teachers outraged by Ofsted's call to stop wrapping pupils in cotton wool

9 Aug 2017

Teachers have reacted with a mixture of outrage and disbelief to the recent suggestion by Amanda Spielman that a culture of wrapping children in cotton wool is leaving them unable to cope with everyday risk.

Writing on the Tes online forums, many teachers commented that following the Ofsted chief inspector’s advice was likely to end in them falling foul of Ofsted inspectors.

One said: “If a child goes missing on a school trip, no doubt Ofsted would ask what was done to keep them safe.”

And another commented: “The last two Ofsteds I had, I wrote over-the-top risk assessments for activities, and was only worried they might realise I was taking the p. They were praised on both occasions.”

Ms Spielman advised teachers to “distinguish between real and imagined risk”. In particular, she criticised a primary school that had cancelled its sports day because of dew on the grass as “simply barmy”.

She also said that children wearing high-visibility jackets on school trips looked like “tiny construction workers”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that it is not so easy for schools to dismiss safeguarding concerns.

“We have to remember that teachers work in loco parentis,” he said. “Many of the expectations of what we do in schools are a reflection of what parents, and society as a whole, expect in terms of how we look after young people.”

He added that he wished he had thought to dress his pupils in hi-vis jackets during school trips: “We need to make sure that we’re not being sentimental, and looking back to the days when it would have been unthinkable that really bad things would have happened on school trips.”

The issue of hi-vis jackets, in particular, divided teachers on the Tes forums.

One noted that, on her last school trip to a London museum, “ALL the kids from ALL the schools were wearing yellow hi-vis jackets. Was a complete nightmare. Lost count of the times staff were calling after each other’s kids to stop wandering off…”

But others pointed out that, on a trip to an open space, such as a beach, it is important to be able to identify children from a distance. “It’s about minimising stupid risks, not about never taking any,” one said.

Another added: “Safety culture was rarely about the safety of children, but rather about the cowardice of senior leadership teams, and the willingness of some local authorities to reach out-of-court settlements, with vexatious claims by some parents.”

Ofsted has said that new training this summer will remind inspectors what their safeguarding priorities should be.

In her statement, Ms Spielman said: “It will ask them to focus on what schools are doing to identify children potentially at risk of real harm; how these children are being helped; and how they manage accusations and other serious problems with staff.”

But some teachers on the Tes forums, meanwhile, suggested a different approach to eliminating health and safety concerns.

“Some might say Ofsted are a real danger to health,” one wrote. “It seems to me there should be a health warning attached to all inspectors.”

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