British bulldog 'vanishing from schools'

Game of conkers Some schools fear nut allergies will be triggered by conker games, according to the survey

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Teachers fear traditional playground games like British bulldog and conkers are disappearing from many of England's schools, a survey suggests.

More than a quarter (29%) of the 653 school staff surveyed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said chasing game British bulldog had been banned from their school.

Some 14% said pupils were banned from playing conkers and 9% said leapfrog.

Most (57%) said they felt schools were becoming increasingly risk averse.

The research was published at the ATL teaching union's annual conference in Liverpool on Tuesday.

And overall 15% of teachers, lecturers, support staff and school leaders said that fewer playground games and sports activities were played at their school than three years ago.

'Broken bones'

The key reasons for the decline were fewer staff on hand to supervise activities, reduced funding and concerns over pupil safety.

One secondary school teacher said the game, bulldog, was banned at her school "because of the number of broken bones it generates!"

And a primary school teacher said: "Apparently the main problem with conkers is that nut allergy sufferers are increasingly allergic to them."

Teachers were also questioned about changes in attitude towards risk. Some 57% of staff said there was a growing trend towards risk aversion in schools.

Start Quote

Pupils need to learn their own limitations, which they can't do if they don't encounter risk.”

End Quote Secondary school teacher from Wales

And of the 383 staff who thought schools were more risk adverse, 90% said it constrained activities both in and out of school.

Some 84% think it limits the curriculum, while 83% believe risk aversion puts a brake on pupils' preparation for life.

A deputy head teacher at a primary school in Cleveland said: "All staff recognise the need to keep children safe, but not all recognise that children still need to take measured risks to develop real life skills."

A teacher at the Froebel Small School in East Sussex said it tried to help children learn to be safe.

"Children are allowed to explore their physical limits and learn to negotiate physical tasks at their own pace. Staff have clear guidelines and children have clear boundaries," the teacher added.

Another secondary school teacher, from Wales, said: "Pupils need to learn their own limitations, which they can't do if they don't encounter risk."

And there continues to be fears that school trips could end in teachers or schools being sued, should something go wrong.

'Mud and love'

The majority of staff think school trips and activities are very important, with 92% of those surveyed saying they enhanced learning and support the curriculum.

Some schools already have a relaxed attitude towards risk. A teacher at a primary school in England told how its children go on weekly nature walks and end up being taught how to make a campfire and cook on it.

"We also spend the day in the woods around a fire pretending to be Anglo-Saxons. Mud and love is our motto. I think we are unique!"

ATL general secretary, Mary Bousted, said: "Teachers, lecturers, support staff and school leaders all recognise that children need to be safe, however, without encountering risk it is difficult for them to learn their own limitations."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    Surely we shouldn't be deciding what games children can play in the playground... isn't that where they should be using their imagination and making up their own games to play? Play time when I was at school was the only time teachers didn't tell us what to do - unless we were obviously causing harm to someone or ourselves!

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I'm head of a Scottish Primary school where British Bulldogs is encouraged, so is Forest School work, planting and felling trees, building shelters, making simple fires, sawing, cutting, lopping etc. We have an outdoor exercise park where children can climb and we're building an aerial walkway (thanks to Royal Engineers amongst others). We actively teach children how to take risks intelligently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    In contrast - I work in a KS1 playground and we play 'bulldog' and 'tiggy scarecrow' as well as other games within coned areas organised by our Junior Play Leaders from year 6 (supervised by myself). A calm playground with less accidents, more social skills and loads of fun!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    So, is it the fault of 'risk averse' teachers? Of course not. Nor is it the fault of 'loony liberalism'. It is the fault of our entire culture's belief that somebody must be to blame, and the accompanying lawsuits and payouts. I find most people eager to criticise this are also the first to jump at the chance to sue schools, workplaces and small children for every last penny.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Wrapping our children in cotton wool will only lead to a society of people ill-equipped to deal with stressful situations, and an inability to understand consequences.

    Please teach the importance of responsibility so that our young may learn of reactions - if 'bulldogs' and conkers are considered rule breaking then then it is no wonder 'bad behaviour' is on the increase!


Comments 5 of 11


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