Column: Have today’s children been wrapped up in cotton-wool?

According to the Observer, 12-15 year olds spend on average 20 hours a week on the internet
According to the Observer, 12-15 year olds spend on average 20 hours a week on the internet

The Sunday press this week was totally dominated by education stories. University academics used to be measured by their higher degrees and the quality of their published work.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bolton, Professor George Holmes, measures himself by the size of his enormous Bentley. He’s quoted as saying, “I hope students use their education to get a good job and then they too can have a Bentley”. The Sunday Times followed up by pointing out that foreign (Non-EU) students pay four times as much in fees as British and EU students. And their number has risen by 39%. Expect a Lamborghini on the forecourt at the Bolton Campus next year.

Meanwhile the Observer had a “do you want the good news or the bad news story”. . Smoking, drinking, television addiction and teenage pregnancy are all in decline. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the blighters are busy doing other things. And sadly it’s not mass participation in the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. According to the Observer, 12-15 year olds spend on average 20 hours a week on the internet. All of them have a social media profile and the vast majority have their own smartphone. All this, of course is supremely ironic. It could be said that we have succeeded in many ways in making the world a safer world for our children, “but”, says the Observer editorial, “when it comes to the internet, it feels like we are barely trying”.

All of which brings us to the Sunday Telegraph. Amanda Spielman is the newly appointed Chief Inspector of Schools (OFSTED). She writes that “over the years an over-cautious culture has developed in our schools, one that too often tries to wrap children in cotton-wool”. She reserves her special ire for the common practice in primary schools of ensuring that children on any trip will be wearing a hi-vis jacket. She says they look as if they are “auditioning for Bob the Builder”. It’s a flippant comment and does not do justice to the pressure schools feel in relation to safeguarding. And where does most of that pressure come from?

From OFSTED of course. She’s right in her sentiment, but the remedy lies as much in her hands as anybody else’s. Schools now rightly put safeguarding children as their number one priority. On that there must be no room for doubt. If we have gone OTT sometimes, OFSTED must lead the way in rectifying the trend.

Some years ago a student of mine was finding school life particularly difficult. It took us a while to find his interest. Sadly it wasn’t French or Maths. Stephen loved model trains. We bought him a train set and his life was transformed. We then discovered he also loved model boats.

Buying him a model of the Titanic probably wasn’t our best idea.. I took him to the pond in Valley gardens. He was not wearing a hi-vis jacket. The Titanic did what it was supposed to do and sank. Stephen, fortunately, didn’t, but the trip would still have failed OFSTED. No ten page risk assessment, you see.

Back at the ranch Thomas the Tank Engine was also in serious trouble. Thomas did not appear on the inventory of “notifiable electric appliances”. At the feedback meeting after our OFSTED inspection, Stephen’s train set was set up on the table in my office. In comes Stephen and safely delivers biscuits to each of the inspectors in railway trucks. Stephen watches carefully. Eat one of his biscuits and the inspectors are hopelessly compromised. But at the same time, it was an offer they could not and dare not refuse. And they didn’t. Amanda would have been pleased.