Playing with fire? ‘Fearless’ headteacher to advise Health and Safety Executive

The TES is reporting that a headteacher who puts shotguns in the hands of primary children, encourages them to play with fire and has herds of wild animals roaming through the school is to be the new face of health and safety.

Mike Fairclough’s ability to assess danger – and yet still take risks – has led to a request to collaborate with the national Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

West Rise Junior School in Eastbourne, East Sussex, where Mr Fairclough is head, came to prominence when it was named TES primary school of the year in 2015. Its innovative curriculum – children go clay-pigeon shooting, tend bees, smelt iron and even, on one occasion, slaughtered a pig – was subsequently profiled in TES.

As a result, the school came to the attention of Dame Judith Hackitt, HSE chair. She is planning to visit West Rise in March, to demonstrate that health and safety need not mean wrapping children in cotton wool.

West Rise has a herd of water buffalo on-site. “Enormous horned animals,” Mr Fairclough says. “”We want children to be able to engage with the animals, but not perhaps to walk across the field with something that looks like a bag of food for the buffalo, because they’ll be mauled to death.”

Both Dame Judith and Mr Fairclough agree that only by embracing the danger – with correct health-and-safety measures in place – can children learn…

“It’s expanding outside your comfort zone. Staying in your comfort zone is the worst thing you can do.”

See more in the 29 January edition of TES

More at Playing with fire? ‘Fearless’ headteacher to advise Health and Safety Executive


Sounds like a very interesting choice – your thought and reactions?

Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…

Are you a trainee teacher, NQT, teacher, headteacher, parent or  just someone who cares about education and has something to get off  your chest in a Schools Improvement Guest Post? Follow this link for more details at the bottom of the page.

Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our daily email bulletin (around 7am) with all the latest schools news stories. Your details will never be given to anyone else and you can unsubscribe at any stage. Just follow this link.

We now have a Facebook page - please click to like!


Gender survey sent out to schools was a "draft" not signed off by Children's Commissioner
Tim Peake sows seeds for space age plants and challenges schools to take part
Categories: Leadership, Policy and Teaching.


  1. Nairb1

    Schools are definitely risk averse. This isn’t because they are over protective of children it’s because they don’t want the hassle of defending spurious compensation claims and fending off the local press with the headline ‘Mum slams school after child trips over in playground’
    ‘Tawnhee was just running across the playground when she tripped and fell, grazing her knee’ said a tearful Mrs.Thisllgettheholidaypaidfor, 28. ‘I’ve spoke to other parents and they say that they know of kids who have fell over in that playground. Now I’m scared to send my kids to school if them teachers can’t look after them proper. It’s disgraceful.’

  2. This isn’t new. OK, the buffalo and shot-guns are an unusual feature but plenty of the 240 OPAL Outdoor Play and Learning schools around the country have ‘fire play’ sessions at lunchtimes and the pupils learn from age 5 how to properly risk-benefit assess all manner of carefully designed-in risky experiences around their school grounds, which contain playful features designed by the school (after their training) to promote fitness, risk adeptness, character development, life-learning, self-confidence and social development in an enjoyable way. 
    As PISA is now ranking international education by ‘teamwork and problem-solving skills’ as well as formal results (which the French Education Minister recently announced they now will be doing), you’d think the UK government would want all schools to provide an environment where pupils can learn these skills on a daily basis, wouldn’t you?

    One of our key training sessions for schools is in showing them how they can properly address parental safety concerns by learning the difference between health and safety law and civil law, and thereby getting out in front of the whole compensation nonsense, which doesn’t really exist except in the newspapers. 
    A large part of risk aversion in schools is caused by poor, out of date safety training for staff who don’t understand that children’s play requires a different approach from standard risk assessment. 
    The HSE guidance changed to reflect this in 2012 but most H&S officers struggle to understand it, let alone teach it to others. 
    Since 2014 the guidance has even been available on the DfE website but who ever bothers to educate themself about these things? These are only teachers we are talking about, after all! They’d much rather continue peddling the myths and misconceptions than learn what they are supposed to know as adults responsible for child education and safety.

    On the positive side, Judith Hackett understands the issue, and she’s excellent at spreading the word.

Let us know what you think...