Leading article: Three cheers for Sir Digby

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The Independent Online

Sir Digby Jones, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, was right to warn at the weekend that we were in danger of creating "a society of victims", loath or unable to take risks.

Sir Digby Jones, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, was right to warn at the weekend that we were in danger of creating "a society of victims", loath or unable to take risks. In education, this manifests itself in two ways. One is on the subject of school trips where - to use Sir Digby's colourful language - teachers are reluctant to take pupils out canoeing on a Saturday morning because they "could end up in the slammer".

Before he was moved to the Home Office, Charles Clarke made it clear that one of his priorities for 2005 would be to tackle the issue of school trips, and to publish new guidance to make it easier for teachers to participate in them in future. Some teachers say that they are put off the idea of trips by the bureaucracy involved in carrying out a risk assessment of what could go wrong before the trip has taken place.

It is an issue worth revisiting once the general election is over. As David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said in response to Sir Digby's comments, the vast majority of trips go ahead peacefully and without incident. It would be a tragedy if these valuable activities were to be lost to future generations of schoolchildren.

Sir Digby also revealed that Health & Safety officials were frustrating one of the key elements of the reforms outlined by the former chief schools inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson in his inquiry into 14-19 education - that 14- and 15-year-olds should be able to take time off from the classroom to gain work experience. (This proposal was accepted by the Government.) Health & Safety officials believe that it is too risky to put young people into a factory environment. Sir Digby is trying to negotiate his way round this concern with Downing Street - and we hope that he succeeds.

We also agree with Sir Digby's larger point - that we should not be educating young people to grow up in a risk-free society, and that they need to experience failure as well as success. That means that they need to take exams that they can either fail or do well in, and participate in sporting events in which they may also end up with mixed results. Competitive sports are cool again, and only a handful of schools are still against them. Most educational establishments now embrace them enthusiastically - as they should.

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