I want in the article that follows, and the next one, to consider aspects of the resistance, current and developing, to what can be called the ‘pro-risk’ movement in respect of play and outdoor learning.
In this, I’m as interested in the subjective, internalised, self-oppression experienced by at least some – I hazard to suggest actually many – practitioners, a symptom of which is abiding by norms that they rationally disavow, as much as objective factors such as the hold Standards have on thought and action.
This piece, I’m afraid, ends in a minor key.
Progress and movement
I remember thinking myself rather bright – a momentary conceit – when, in some essay or other, upon which matter I cannot now recall, I drew a distinction between progress and mere movement, and the danger of mistaking the latter for the former. It is, I think, a not uncommon error which, unchecked, can restrict vision to that which one likes to see. The concomitant danger being threats, barriers and counter-currents come to occupy only one’s peripheral vision, or are pushed out of sight completely.
These musings once again tapped me on the shoulder as I enjoyed the splendid three day 5th International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA) conference in Lund, Sweden, hosted by the formidable City of Lund’s Naturskolan team. The programme included visits to some quite delicious school grounds and public spaces. Green, ‘natural’ spaces, needless to say. The taste reference, by the way, is not misplaced since the treats included first rate lunches grown and/or cooked by local schools. Continue reading
Preamble, 28 March 2014
This is a corrected version of the article first posted on the 9 February 2014. In that post I erroneously said that the HSE was the prosecuting authority in the York College nursery case. That was wrong, they were not. I apologise for my error, now corrected. However, the general points raised in the article seem to me to still hold. They therefore remain intact in the piece below.
Since the date of the initial post, there has been an interesting post from Robin Sutcliffe on New Zealand’s approach to compensation and litigation. I urge you to read it. The New Zealand approach is certainly one we should look into to see if it, or some variation of it, might be relevant in the UK.
The York College case
Some readers will be aware of the York College Nursery case in which, sadly and tragically, a three year old child died as a result of becoming entangled in a rope that was attached to the top of a slide.
Prosecutions were launched: the nursery worker was charged with manslaughter and also, under health and safety legislation, of failing to take ‘reasonable care’. She was cleared of all charges, which is a relief.
In addition, York College, owners of the nursery, were charged with failing to secure the health and safety of children. The college was found guilty and will be sentenced on February 2014. They are liable for unlimited fines. (Update: the fine was £175,000. Judge’s sentencing remarks here.)
I want to tread cautiously in commenting at this stage. I will not comment at this time on the findings against the college. Nevertheless some initial thoughts arising from the charge against the nursery worker and another case, can be shared. Continue reading
The recent visit to San Francisco/Berkeley gave me the opportunity to meet with like-minded and partially-like-minded people. One issue in particular kept coming up and that is the way people felt hemmed in by standards, regulations, and notionally non-mandatory guidelines that in practice were treated as formal requirements .
This disaffection was not restricted to those responsible for play provision, but was felt more widely. If I had to sum up the general feeling as I encountered it, it is this: that in the USA the tendency was to over-prescribe the detail of what may or may not be done in too many areas of endeavour. The paradoxical effect of this is to undermine the capacity of duty holders (I use the term loosely here to identify all those who have a formal role in decision-making, whether as professional or volunteer) to make informed judgments in the light of their ‘reading’ of the always particular, changing, situation-specific circumstances that they confront. Instead of being able to exercise judgment, the pressure was to act as mechanicals, to follow a sort of universal script deemed to be suitable for all occasions. In an odd, paradoxical sort of way, the scripts – standards, regulations, guidelines – seemingly written to enhance best possible action and outcome in the real world, end up being other-worldly, conjuring the fiction that messy reality can be engineered into a pre-formed, one-size-fits-all template. Continue reading
In this article Bernard Spiegal discusses the role, scope and authority of play equipment standards. The article is one of a number of papers, comments, blogs, presentations and articles being generated by members of The York Group.
The York Group, comprising Professor David Ball, Tim Gill, Harry Harbottle, Bernard Spiegal, has come together to contribute to thinking about risk and play equipment Standards. The York Group will also be publishing jointly authored papers.
Responsibility for the views expressed in this article is the author’s. The article does, however, introduce some key lines of argument for the group, to be explored further in both its individual and joint papers.
Standards: the strong distinction
The overarching purpose of this article is to initiate a process of emancipation. To liberate occupied territory – the too large terrain that play equipment standards occupy – thereby freeing play providers to make their own judgments about where, in their provision, the balance between risk and benefit lies.
In what follows I want first to establish what I shall call a ‘strong distinction’, one that marks clearly conceptual distinctions in respect of the role, scope and authority of play equipment standards. These distinctions have for too long been allowed to remain blurred and confused. Continue reading