This sort of thing has been a subject of debate worldwide for some time and is now getting a good airing in Australia. Three articles below

School may backflip on cartwheel ban

An Australian school which recently banned its students from doing cartwheels, somersaults and other gymnastics during recess is reviewing the decision after parents and students got all bent out of shape.

The school, in the coastal town of Townsville in Queensland state, told students they could not perform any acrobatics such as handstands outside class because they were a safety hazard.

"The school is actually reviewing this," a spokesman for the Queensland state's education department said Wednesday. A statement by Education Queensland released Wednesday said the decision had been taken "in the interests of the safety of all students as well as in recognition of the school's physical environment."

But it added: "The school will work with its parents and citizens' committee and the school community to ensure an appropriate balance between student safety and their right to engage in gymnastic activities."

The school had classified gymnastic activities a "medium risk level 2" danger to children when performed in class. But Australian media said parents shocked by the ban also discovered that other popular sports such as cricket, tennis and soccer also had the same risk classification but were not banned.


School sued over tiggy

CHILDREN are suing schools for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages for injuries caused while playing games such as tiggy [tag]. Nearly 100 lawsuits were filed against the State of Queensland for injuries suffered by schoolchildren in the last financial year. One child is asking the court to award her $280,000 plus interest after she hurt herself playing tiggy (chase) in the schoolyard when she was six. Another launched a lawsuit last month claiming more than $136,000 for an injury she says she suffered while high jumping during a Sunshine Coast school carnival.

The revelation that schoolyards are becoming fertile ground for litigation follows public outcry over the banning of cartwheels, handstands and somersaults at a north Queensland school and admissions by Education Minister Rod Welford that fear of legal action was partly behind the decision.

The case involving tiggy centres around an incident at the Bribie Island State School in 2004. Documents filed in the District Court of Queensland say the now 10-year-old girl tripped on a metal bar "comprising part of the playground equipment" during her lunchbreak. It is alleged she suffered a shortening of her right leg, disuse osteoporosis and a deformity at the neck of the right femur as a result of the fall and then inadequate medical treatment by Queensland Health.

The girl claims through her legal representative that she was not supervised adequately and the playground equipment was not safe. A notice to defend filed by the State of Queensland denies many of the allegations.

A claim for more than $136,000 was filed in the District Court last month on behalf of a girl who was eight when she allegedly injured her lower left leg and ankle during an athletics carnival at the Kuluin State School on the Sunshine Coast. The girl's foot allegedly landed between two cushioning mats during the high jump, striking the ground. The claim states the now 12-year-old has an altered gait as a result of her injury and "has since undergone hospital, surgical, medical and para-medical treatment".

The State of Queensland filed a notice of intention to defend on August 11, denying that the consequences of the incident were caused by a breach of common law duty or negligence.

State schools are not the only ones subject to claims. The St Margaret's Anglican Girls School trust is being sued over an alleged injury suffered by a Year 8 student on July 20, 2005, while skipping on concrete during a physical education class. Kerin and Co Lawyers solicitor Stuart Wright said a settlement had already been reached in the case, filed in the District Court of Queensland last month. The amount was confidential. St Margaret's Anglican School deputy principal Cynthia May said it was compulsory for all staff to be trained in first aid and there was a full-time nurse on duty at the school. "We make every effort to minimise risk for the girls," she said yesterday.


Lunchtime games ban turns children into wusses: experts

SOMETHING has crept under the skin of top child and adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg. An ambassador for the federal youth suicide prevention program MindMatters and a founding member of the National Centre Against Bullying, the Melbourne-based practitioner is generally unflappable despite his daily diet of teen angst and hurt. Yet a Townsville school's banning this week of a few allegedly unsafe gymnastic pleasures - handstands, cartwheels and somersaults - appears to have galled him.

"It's all part of this 'wussification' syndrome that we're seeing in contemporary Australia where schools have been forced to bow to the great god of occupational health and safety," Dr Carr-Gregg said. "We have schools in Victoria which have banned birthday cakes with candles on them because the children might burst into flames and where soccer has been banned during recess because the kids might be hit in the face by the ball. "Children are not accessories to dress up and keep behind glass. If we continue to cloak them in cotton wool and outsource their development to lawyers we will have a bunch of kids who are almost frightened of the world. This is very serious."

Deadly serious, according to Rob Pitt, director of the Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit. Like Dr Carr-Gregg, he believed adventurous play was a critical tool in teaching children how to appraise risk - with resulting injuries usually minor. "When you do something that's a little bit on the edge, the (lessons) are learnt before you get to an age when the toys you're playing with can potentially kill," he says. "If they haven't learnt appropriate risk-taking before they're in charge of a motor vehicle, the consequences are often fatal."

Not that Dr Pitt would class cartwheels among dicier high jinks. As well as running the QISU, he is director of the Mater Children's Hospital emergency department, which sees 42,000 patients a year. He said injuries from handstands and cartwheels "just don't turn up on our radar".

Townsville's Belgian Gardens State School principal Glenn Dickson continued to keep his public silence after mum Kylie Buschgens hit the headlines on Tuesday with claims that her daughter Cali, 10, was banned from performing cartwheels during breaks. But the cartwheels, handstands and somersaults ban will continue until at least October. The school's Parents and Citizens Association vice-president Jan Collins said about 40 to 50 parents and teachers attended their monthly meeting on Wednesday night and moved to set up a committee to discuss the ban.

Education Minister Rod Welford was slow to react, saying playground rules were a matter for individual schools. It is understood some Queensland public primary schools outlaw tree-climbing and contact games such as Red Rover. By the following day, Mr Welford had entered the wider debate, shifting blame to parents by contending it was their "mollycoddling" that had put schools on a defensive footing in case of lawsuits.

Education Queensland released figures showing that last financial year 93 compensation claims involving students allegedly injured at school or during school activities were brought against the State Government. They included a (now) 10-year-old girl who allegedly suffered a leg deformity and osteoporosis from tripping over play equipment in a game of tiggy at Bribie Island State School in 2004. The girl is seeking more than $280,000.

In reality, the paternalism stunting the liberties of modern children is all-pervasive: at once, cultural and institutional. It's there in the anxiety-ridden "helicopter parents". "Hovering over their children keeping the germs away and making sure that they're safe," explained Australian Council of State School Organisations president Jennifer Branch.

And it's underscored by skittish bureaucracy, the likes of which severed an incident-free, 57-year tradition by outlawing the Grand Carousel from this year's Ekka. A state workplace health and safety inspector speculated children could be crushed beneath sets of prancing timber hooves.

Dr Carr-Gregg was concerned all the fussing would usher in a generation of children who struggled to self-identify as adults "because we're pausing the DVD of their development". They would lack decision-making ability, independence and other life skills. Moreover, they would be low on that key survival ingredient - resilience. "If you extend this ludicrousness to its logical end, no child will ever learn to ride a bicycle because they might fall off," Dr Carr-Gregg said. "What's next? Are we going to ban the pencil because of the risk of RSI? "An essential part of growing up is exposure to the fact that life isn't always fair. "When things do go wrong, children can pick themselves up, start again and learn from the negative experience. "Because we're (sheltering) them from that, I'm seeing 12- and 13-year-old kids who are just normally sad because their dog's died or their parents have divorced. And they're running off to GPs looking for anti-depressants because they think they're depressed."

Educators like University of Queensland physical education professor Richard Tinning point out that scaling a tree or negotiating a climbing frame is a natural instinct and has benefits for honing motor co-ordination, building muscle and exploring boundaries. "But schools have increasingly sanitised the playing environment for kids, taking out a lot of the monkey bars in order to protect from litigation," Professor Tinning said. "As a result, if kids do any physical activity, it's usually not involving their upper body. Most kids today couldn't hang and support their weight."

Ironically, West Australian Ian Lillico, an internationally renowned expert on boys' education, strode into Townsville yesterday as part of a professional workshop tour for teachers and school administrators. He labels the cartwheel curb "rubbish" and says, especially for boys, broken limbs and various playground scrapes are often worn as a badge of honour.



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