Schools should teach pupils more about risk-taking than rights, CBI chief says

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The Independent Online

Britain is creating a "nation of victims" ready to claim compensation at a moment's notice, Sir Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, told the National Association of Head Teachers' conference.

Britain is creating a "nation of victims" ready to claim compensation at a moment's notice, Sir Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, told the National Association of Head Teachers' conference.

He called for young people to be taught more about risk-taking than their rights. "When you're a victim you can blame someone - and when you blame someone you're entitled to compensation," he said. Parents were almost "egging on their schools to break the rules" so they could sue if something went wrong. As a result, teachers were reluctant to take pupils on school trips because "if you take them canoeing on a Saturday morning you could end up in the slammer", he told the conference in Telford.

Sir Digby revealed he was in negotiation with officials at Downing Street over attempts by Health and Safety executives to stop children being sent on work experience at the age of 14. Youngsters were being told it was "too dangerous" to enter a factory. "We're teaching them that risk doesn't exist," he said.

He continued: "I want sport days where there are firsts, seconds, thirds and prizes given out for winning," and "I want exams that you can fail."

Sir Digby also called for a stronger emphasis on literacy and numeracy in schools - claiming there were three and a half million functionally illiterate adults in today's UK workforce. As a result, businesses were spending "time, resources and money" teaching basic skills.

David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, said he agreed with Sir Digby about the attitude towards risk-taking.

"I think we're in danger of wrapping our children in cotton wool to the extent where they'll be suffocated," he said. "The majority of school trips are carried out very safely and the number of accidents are minimal. We must not allow the lawyers who specialise in 'no win, no fee' compensation claims... to dominate to the extent that people are scared to do things."

When pursuing an outdoor life culminates in tragedy

Teachers were reminded of the severity of punishment that can be delivered to those accused of negligence when Paul Ellis, a geography teacher, was jailed for 12 months in 2003 for manslaughter, after a boy drowned while on a trip to the Lake District.

The boy, who jumped 13 feet into a near-freezing pool, did not attend the school, but joined the group with his mother, a school employee.

In March this year, an inquiry into the death advised parents to ask questions about safety before giving consent to trips.

With school trips having accounted for the deaths of 50 pupils and adults since 1997, councils are aware of the risks.

Perhaps with this in mind, Buckinghamshire County Council will close almost all of its school pools this summer, following the death last year of Nathan Matthews, 11, who drowned during a swimming lesson. It was held at a public pool, but the council said the closures were necessary because most of its 34 school pools failed to meet safety standards.

Helen McCormack

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