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RUNNING FREE: But some schools are concerned about facing litigation over playground accidents. Posed by models
RUNNING FREE: But some schools are concerned about facing litigation over playground accidents. Posed by models

Banning games in playground? They can take a running jump

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MY grandson, Cooper, will be starting primary school next year and this could prove to be very interesting because he’s not a child who likes to sit still.

He’s only just turned four, but he’s already had a plaster cast on his foot after he broke it jumping off a bed, and he’s been stitched up a few times after various falls and mishaps.

When he is let loose in the school playground after being confined to a desk for a few hours, I’m pretty sure I know what’s going to happen. He’s going to run and jump and, if there is something to climb, Cooper will be at the top of it.

If there is a ball of any kind within his reach, he’ll be on it in a flash because that’s the kind of child he is.

He’s at his happiest when he’s on the move and that might present a problem if what I hear is right.

Apparently, some schools are afraid of litigation, so they are tightening up on what kids can get up to while they’re on their break. Running and playing football could be outlawed because of a fear that a child could fall or be hit with a ball.

There say there are two things that are certain in life, death and taxes, but I’ll add another one. Children running and playing football will fall and will be hit with a ball at some stage, but it’s unlikely that any injury sustained will be fatal.

Kids playing will have mishaps and no amount of intervention will change that.

Like others of my generation, I have scars on my body that stand out as reminders of different incidents and accidents that happened to me over the years, particularly during my childhood.

I didn’t have to receive the Last Rites for any of them, but I imagine they were probably uncomfortable at the time. I survived the traumas and managed to reach adulthood relatively unscathed.

My parents never sued for compensation and I can’t recall any case where a civil action was taken against the school, and there were probably a lot more reasons to do so back in those days than there are now. Those accidents were just accepted as part of growing up and nobody was held to blame.

There was as much of a chance back in the 1960s, of getting injured in the classroom or the head master’s office as there was in the playground.

My primary school was run by the Christian Brothers and they weren’t slow when it came to dishing out pain.

The principal didn’t mind using the cane and the usual punishment was three lashes on each hand. That was enough to make the eyes water and the fingers would sting long after the numbness wore off.

Things have changed since then, but not always for the better. There was a case heard in a Dublin court not too long ago, where a child sued the school through her mother, for injuries she suffered after a fall in the playground.

She based her case on the belief that the staff had been negligent in failing to stop a game of chase during a lunch break in the school yard. The child fell and broke her arm and she sued the school for €38,000.

However, the judge ruled that games of chase in school yards throughout the country could not be prohibited.

“I just cannot accept the proposition that they should,” said the judge. “She was engaged in a game of chase pure and simple and, while it is most regrettable that she became unbalanced and fell, this was simply an old-fashioned accident and I fail to see any liability on the part of the school for that accident.

It was a sensible judgement, in my opinion. Any other decision would have had far-reaching consequences for schools across the country and would have created a major headache for teachers.

Just imagine trying to explain to several hundred children that they can either walk around the playground or stand completely still. Good luck enforcing that.

But, anecdotally, there are stories circulating of schools restricting the activities of children in the playground because of the fear of litigation and increased insurance costs if someone gets injured.

According to teaching unions, some schools have implemented a ban on students running in the yard because they are so fearful of accidents.

The insurance industry has said it is not responsible for restricting activities in schoolyards, and as far as they are concerned, it’s up to school staff to decide what is appropriate for the children in their care.

They have issued guidelines in relation to the supervision of children during their breaks, but nothing more than that.

But I suspect the school staff may have an ulterior motive for preventing the children getting too excited in the playground, and rather than trying to prevent injury to the kids, they might be trying to prevent accidents of another kind.

Fianna Fail TD, Fiona O’Loughlin, said that some schools are asking students to bring their own toilet paper to school because of rising costs. She felt it wasn’t fair on students to have to bring their own supply and I’m inclined to agree with her. According to Ms O’Loughlin, some schools can’t afford to buy toilet rolls.

Back in the day, outside toilets often had pieces of newspaper hanging on a bit of string that acted as a toilet roll holder. Maybe we’re going back to those days.

Either way, schools better come up with a plan, because if you have hundreds of children running and jumping around the school yard without as much a single square of toilet paper between them, things could get very messy.