Let pupils live dangerously, Health and Safety Executive chief tells schools

Traditional games such as “tig” and British Bulldog are banned in more than one in four school

Children are suffering under an “excessive risk-averse” culture in schools that is damaging their ability to cope in the real world, the head of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned.

Coping with risk and danger is a key part of a child’s education and should be put at the heart of the school curriculum, according to Dame Judith Hackitt, of the HSE. Otherwise, she said, they will become “a liability in any workplace”.

Dame Judith, who has chaired the organisation for more than eight years, criticised the increasingly excessive worries over health and safety in schools, which she described as “nonsensical”.

“We had one school who told kids they could not wear frilly socks for health and safety reasons – fearing they would trip over,” she said in a speech to the Royal Academy of Engineering. “People [now] expect to be looked after. We need to look out for ourselves and take responsibility for risk, not leave it to others.”

Traditional games such as “tig” and British Bulldog are banned in more than one in four schools, according to a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Some pupils are not allowed to throw snowballs.

Dame Judith argued that such bans were undermining her organisation’s efforts to improve safety in dangerous industries, such as construction and farming. She called on schools to put an end to top-down “bureaucratic” behaviour, and said children should be encouraged to climb trees and play games that had a risk of injury.

“Overprotective parents and risk-averse teachers who do not enable children to learn to handle risk will lead to young adults who are poorly equipped to deal with the realities of the world... unable to discern real risk from trivia, not knowing who they can trust or believe,” said Dame Judith. “They will be a liability in any workplace if they do not have those basic skills, to exercise judgement.”

Although the HSE has been criticised in the past for being too zealous over health and safety, a spokeswoman for the group said it “absolutely supports Dame Judith’s position”.

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