The school that teaches kids how to handle danger

Headteacher Mike Fairclough thinks schools ? and parents ? are failing children by over-protecting them instead of teaching them how to handle danger. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Headteacher Mike Fairclough thinks schools ? and parents ? are failing children by over-protecting them instead of teaching them how to handle danger. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

When I was a kid school camps where you got to build fires and cook over them were normal.We did activities that were dangerous if safety rules were not followed, like crossing rivers. My childhood thanks to my Dad included using an air rifle?and later a real one. I chopped firewood into kindling after being shown how to do it correctly. I mowed the lawn and knew what to do if the mower ever jammed. Did I ever fall, cut or burn myself? Yes, I did but I learned from the experience and took pride in my mastery. These days schools are too scared to take children on camps because the safety rules required are now over the top.

Don’t worry, it?s not dangerous,? says Thomas, 10, carefully positioning a tray of bread cakes over burning coals. ?It?s OK if you do it right. There are people here who know the safety rules and they teach us,? he adds.

Children at this state junior school have lessons in using sharp knives, saws and even air rifles. They get to cook food and smelt metal over an open fire and to skin and bone rabbits. Mike Fairclough, their headteacher, believes exposing children to risk fosters a confidence that improves their educational performance, behaviour and attitudes.

Fairclough has no truck with the ?elf and safety? brigade and he arrives, lurching alarmingly on the rough terrain, on a quad bike. ?A lot of teachers agree with me. Headteachers and governors are more reticent due to their accountability should things go wrong,? he says. ?I feel strongly that we should not be limiting ourselves or the children through fear…

He thinks schools ? and parents ? are failing children by protecting them from anything that might cause harm instead of teaching them how to handle danger. His decision to take pupils clay-pigeon shooting brought him notoriety ? and plaudits from Ofsted and the Health and Safety Executive.

Now Fairclough has written a book provocatively titled: Playing with Fire: Embracing Risk and Danger in Schools. In it he describes how his school, West Rise Junior in Eastbourne, East Sussex, rents 120 acres of marshland to keep a herd of water buffalo, beehives, chickens, sheep and goats, and gets children out in all weathers to ?build grit and resilience?. He invites other schools to ?tear off the cotton wool from around our kids and cast it into the flames?.

He wants to counter the ?widespread misconception? that health and safety rules prohibit any activity with a potential for danger. He says the subject is shrouded in myths, such as bans on conkers or snowballs ?for safety reasons?.

?The reality is that every school can take risks and engage in ?dangerous? activities, in the same way that I have done so at my school for years. No one is stopping them. The government, Ofsted and the Health and Safety Executive would all love to see schools embracing danger in a responsible way,? he says…

-theguardian.com

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