Taking measured risks is an essential part of pupils' development - find out why
PUBLISHED: 12:03 22 September 2010 | UPDATED: 10:30 21 February 2013
In today's health & safety obsessed culture, some children are made to wear goggles for playing conkers, while others are prevented from carrying out even science experiments. Tim Manly explains why taking measured risks is an essential part of...
In todays health & safety obsessed culture, some children are made to wear goggles for playing conkers, while others are preventedfrom carrying out even science experiments.
Here, the headmasterat Hurstpierpoint College in West Sussex, Tim Manly, explains why taking measured risks is an essential part of pupils development...
I imagine that many raised a wry smile on hearing that the organisers of the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo had stated it would be very, very dangerous for the Queen to climb 17 steps to a 12ft-high stage in order to address the assembled throng. For many,that smile broadened when a spokeswoman explained that the stairs were not suitable for anyone who was not trained to use them.
For me, I confess, that smile turned into a quiet cheer when I learnt of the Queens response that as she would not be allowed to do her job properly, she no longer planned to attend the event (well, alright, thats in my words, but you get the drift...).
It is easy, of course, to mock those whose laudable concern is the reduction of unnecessary risk. But, when those efforts result in a culture so risk averse that (to select a couple of UK examples) some schoolchildren wear goggles to play conkers whilst others are prevented from carrying out science experiments, I know that, rather than keeping children safe, we are putting them in harms way. For when we mollycoddle children, we are damaging their health, happiness and prospects, both today and in the future.
As adults, we know that real effort and focus combined with risk-taking, in many different forms, are essential for success in almost every field of endeavour. We know, too, that if properly ambitious then however resourceful and hard working we will sometimes fail; and if we can handle that failure and learn from it, we
then better understand ourselves and are better prepared to tackle the future.
Out of the comfort zone
At Hurst, it is our belief that we enable pupils to realise their full potential and, in so doing, prepare them for the future. That is why we actively encourage creativity and constructive, measured, risk-taking not just throughout the curriculum, but in every aspect of school life.
Academically, for example, we have developed a consensual approach that challenges each pupil to achieve or exceed what they, and we, know is possible if they put real effort into their studies. Progress and objectives are re-assessed every month during term time and the results shared simultaneously with pupil, parents and the relevant staff. Children challenge their perception of what is achievable and strive for continuous improvement, and to do this they have to take risks in moving beyond their comfort zone. Above all, they must take the risk that they might fail. Throughout whether stumbling or succeeding each pupil is supported by a tutor whose role combines that of academic mentor and life coach.
Even quite young children are encouraged to use independent learning techniques so that, given a task, they take the intellectual risk of developing strategies for achieving it. Older Hurst pupils are encouraged to develop academic themes and lead discussions in class; not easy at first but confidence comes with increasing competence and all (including teachers) gain much from the experience.
Hurst is not alone in having a dynamic and vibrant creative culture but we do have exceptional expectations about what can be achieved. All performance involves risk and pupils are encouraged, coached and mentored through seemingly endless rehearsals to prepare for the show. We continually ask our children to demand the very best of themselves, and then some. Sometimes they may fall short and we support them through that learning process because we know that trying and sometimes failing is a vital part both of growing up and a reality of adult life. We hone their skills and understanding but it is they who decide just how far to push the boundaries. When they go for it and risk all to produce a truly great performance, it takes your breath away.
Our outdoor pursuits programme embraces the Duke of Edinburghs Award scheme (silver for younger pupils and gold for 6th formers), the adventure sports elements of the Combined Cadet Force syllabus and more. Flying, sailing, abseiling, mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking, skiing etc develop and strengthen a bank of skills and desirable personal qualities. We manage these activities within a safe, co-operative and trusting environment yet, by their very nature, they present children with exciting and demanding challenges. Overcoming the physical and intellectual demands required to master an activity and confronting personal apprehensions powerfully influence an individuals confidence in what they can achieve, both alone and working with others.
There are many other ways in which schools help to build childrens self-esteem and respect for one another and to prepare them for the rigours and challenges of the world beyond the school gates. Competitive sport continues to thrive in many schools. In addition to the physical and mental benefits, it also provides a salutary reminder that not everyone can win. With hard work, an individual or team can improve their chances of success but victory is by no means guaranteed. That is one reason why, at Hurst, we run so many school teams. Less sporty boys and girls benefit hugely from, and have great fun, playing for 3rd or 4th teams and more than a few surprise themselves (and others) with what they achieve. All learn to win with grace but just as importantly how to lose with dignity and then dust themselves off and work out how to do better next time!
Changing the mindset
Finally, let me touch upon the really exciting opportunities not just for the gifted and talented but for
every child provided through intellectual challenges beyond the constraints of syllabus. Staff who share personal enthusiasms with small groups of pupils in clubs devoted to almost any topic imaginable can provoke a curiosity that propels children well beyond their intellectual comfort zone and lead them almost anywhere.
Yes, I acknowledge that we are a successful independent school, blessed with outstanding resources and staff. I know these are not available to all but my central point is that liberating pupils to experience real challenge with an intelligently assessed and managed level of risk and supporting them through these experiences is less about assets and more about mindsets.
Those who continue to maintain that risk should be factored out wherever possible are not just failing to educate children properly, they are, in my view, failing both children and society at large.
For details, see hppc.co.uk
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