Many schools are concerned about a litigious culture in Irish society
Schools have implemented a ban on students running in the yard because they are so fearful of accidents happening, according to teaching unions.
David Duffy, an education and research officer with the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) said that many schools are concerned about a litigious culture in Irish society.
“Logical but regrettable responses to that litigious culture include schools being so concerned about accidents in the school yard that some have instigated limitations on students’ physical activities such as running in the school yard,” he said.
Mr Duffy was one of the experts who appeared at the joint committee on children and youth affairs yesterday, which is examining the issue of childhood obesity.
He pointed out that fear also creates a societal climate that hinders physical activity for children. “Many parents are concerned about allowing their children to play unsupervised in the street,” he said.
In addition, he said that regrettably, far too many schools do not have access to adequate PE facilities.
He said that: “a recent radio broadcast in Ireland suggested that a response to childhood obesity would be for schools to regularly weigh children and that teachers may be better-placed than doctors to tell parents that their child is obese.
“The TUI would like to state that it finds that suggestion extraordinary and bizarre and that evidence shows that schools regularly weighing children leads to further self-esteem issues for those children” said Mr Duffy.
Meanwhile, Maeve McCafferty, an education and research official with the Irish National Teachers Organisation told the committee said recreational spaces are becoming more and more limited. “It’s not a widespread practice, but we have heard anecdotal evidence of the no-running policy in the yard but unfortunately, again, we are operating in a culture of litigation. A board of management are very exposed as a consequence,” she told the committee.
Moira Leydon, the Assistant General Secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) said that physical inactivity is strongly correlated to obesity. She said research has shown that almost all primary schoolchildren engage in regular sporting activity. However, many children drop out of regular activity during the second-level years, especially girls.”
She pointed out that the inadequacy of facilities has been cited by many schools as the reason for not applying to introduce the new Leaving Cert PE subject.
“Capital expenditure for schools must include provision for these facilities,” said Ms Leydon. She said while new school building specifications include such provision, there is not enough data on the situation in other schools, and she said an audit should be conducted of schools to obtain an accurate picture.
In its submission to the joint committee, the National Parents Council Post Primary (NPCpp) urged that a ban on vending machines selling junk food in schools and public places where children congregate be given serious consideration.
Geoffrey Browne, the president of the council, said that “at the very least in these areas, ‘problem’ snacks in vending machines should be replaced with healthy offerings.”
“A better alternative would be for healthy snacks to be sold in the school canteen or tuck shop where stock and purchases can be monitored with information, guidance and benefits indicated to children when purchasing them,” he said.