'Compensation culture may harm children'

A RETIRING headmaster has spoken of his frustration at being “continually bombarded” with new rules and regulations and the growing threat of litigation facing schools.

By Jonathan Barnes

A RETIRING headmaster has spoken of his frustration at being “continually bombarded” with new rules and regulations and the growing threat of litigation facing schools.

Nick Ward, who is leaving the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook, after nine years, said schools were placed in “ridiculous” situations by the current “over-regulation”, which he said was “gradually sterilising our society.”

Speaking to pupils and parents on the school's speech day, Mr Ward expressed his regret at hearing a teaching union advising members not to take pupils on school trips “for fear of being sued if something goes wrong”.

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He said: “Will society really want to reap the consequences of leaving young people to their own devices to produce some sort of a spirit of adventure in their lives?

“The increasing shackling of new shoots as they try and grow along that trellis of life is, I fear, likely to have the opposite effect to that intended and I do wonder if anyone is really thinking through all the consequences of this, no doubt well-intentioned, new legislation and increasingly litigious society in which we now live.”

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Mr Ward, 55, expressed frustration at regulations, such as new guidelines on food handling, which have lead to some schools banning home-made cakes for fundraising events.

“This is just one of the many instances of over-regulation which I believe is gradually sterilising our society,” he said.

“I'm not sure how many sausages and beef burgers I have barbecued for boys and girls over the last 30 years or so, nor how many tons of chocolate cake my wife has produced. I don't believe we have fatally poisoned anyone in this time.”

Mr Ward, who joined East Anglia's largest HMC co-educational boarding school in 1995, said schools and society in general were “continually bombarded” by “well-meaning” regulations but the consequences “had not been properly thought through”.

He also criticised a “progressively more prescriptive regime” affecting teaching in schools. Mr Ward said it often seemed that teaching was governed by “exponentially increasing regulations and an obsession with the gaining of 'competencies' and a tick-box culture of accountability, where an obsession with narrow targets causes us to lose sight of the bigger picture.”

The National Union of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NAS/UWT) has told its members to “think very carefully” before going on school trips.

“In our experience, teachers have faced lengthy investigations after accidents and it can be very traumatic for them, personally and professionally,” said a spokesman.

“There now seems to be an idea that there is no such thing as a genuine accident. Our advice to members is not to take the risk.”

Adrian Williams, headteacher of County Upper School, Bury St Edmunds, said he continued to support the idea of school trips - but admitted there was a growing threat.

“We will keep them going but there is pressure, no doubt about it. Teachers are worried that if anything goes wrong, they will be in the hot seat, however much they have taken care.

“We live in a more litigious society these days with a compensation culture. It is very worrying for teachers and we have got to support our staff and make them feel it is a worthwhile thing to do.”

Earlier this year, Patrick Phillips, owner of Kentwell Hall, in Long Melford, near Sudbury, said a traditional event at the stately home had been put under threat because of the growing threat of litigation - and the strict risk assessments schools had to carry out before sanctioning trips.

“There have been more and more regulations introduced over the years making it difficult for school staff, and I fear the problem is only going to get worse,” he said.

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