Safety fears can obstruct practical learning

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Safety education in schools in England is characterised by a mixture of inspirational teaching and missed opportunities, according to the findings of research announced by the Child Safety Education Coalition.

One of the concerns hampering high quality safety education is that some schools have noted an “increasingly censorious climate” with regard to practical learning opportunities and the possibility of mishaps in school or under the school’s care. However, the researchers, who were former Ofsted inspectors, also found some schools overestimated parents’ concerns for a totally accident-free environment.

Eleven schools were visited during the course of the research; five primary schools, and six secondary, in six local authorities. The views of headteachers, other senior school leaders, teachers, governors, parents and, crucially, pupils, were sought as a way of investigating the effectiveness of safety education in primary and secondary schools in England.

Among the report’s recommendations are that schools should clarify their policies for safety education and practical opportunities for pupils, and that, in the rare event that something does go wrong when correct safety protocol has been followed, staff should be assured of support.

Key findings outlined in the report, entitled “Learning to Adopt Safe Practices”, are:

  • Schools have a strong commitment to the aims of keeping pupils safe and helping them learn how to look after themselves
  • There is considerable good practice and most pupils acquire good knowledge and habits, however there are also missed opportunities
  • There is some concern among school staff about repercussions should things go wrong during practical activities, which can limit pupils’ opportunities. The issue is sometimes overstated and more could be done to alleviate concerns
  • Schools sense an increasing focus on keeping pupils safe and perceive some parents to be overprotective.
  • There is some increase in risk aversion among teachers, particularly with regard to practical work in science and outdoor pursuits
  • Road safety is addressed thoroughly in primary schools, but pupils’ (and parents’) behaviour in traffic at the school gate sometimes raises concerns about the application of learning
  • Generally, schools do not do enough to keep parents informed of when and how safety messages are taught.

Peter Cornall, vice-chairman of CSEC’s steering group, said: “As a result of this research, we hope that more schools use the opportunities in science, PE lessons and school visits to involve young people in developing their own risk assessment skills to keep themselves and others safe.”

Unintended injuries are the leading cause of death and serious injury in 0 to 19 year olds. The five leading types of unintended injury are: road traffic injuries, drowning, poisoning, burns and scalds and trips and falls.