Why can't my girl wait in the playground after school?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 January, 2012, 12:00am

My daughter has to stay after school for her drawing class, and the teachers won't let her play in the playground. My helper is there looking after her, and this seems ridiculous. What's the problem?

Schools often use their extensive facilities after school hours for a wide range of purposes, including lettings to private activity providers or for teacher-run sessions. There is also a range of meetings for parents to attend information sessions or to consult with their children's teachers.

You must speak with the school to find out the specifics of your own situation. But it is quite normal for schools to be cautious about the use of their premises after formal lessons have finished.

First, a school's duty of care means that health and safety considerations are a top priority. This is no problem during the day when trained staff members are on hand to monitor students and deal with any potentially dangerous situations. This supervision is subject to constant review and moderation to ensure high and consistent standards with knowledge and experience of the students themselves and the context of the school building.

Although your helper may be perfectly competent, she will not have this experience and will be unaware of specific potential dangers and the procedures to deal with them. She may not be trained in first aid, for example, or know that a particular piece of equipment may be unsafe. Would she know what to do in an emergency situation and whom to inform? Children also respond differently when not with teachers who set clear guidelines and parameters, than with others who may take a more relaxed approach.

Secondly, schools are realising the need to be a safe, secure environment. Young children running free can be a danger to themselves, others and to some of the valuable equipment found in even the humblest educational establishments. Schools need to ensure that everybody who uses the site is authorised, approved and insured. It is becoming more common to see everyone within the school perimeter wearing security badges or other identification.

While they can monitor the quality of supervision with professional staff, it is practically impossible with parents or helpers. Sadly, many teachers will report that there are a number of adults who seem to have difficulty controlling their offspring. While this is a small minority, it is impossible to judge and monitor. So a blanket judgment, such as the one you describe, is the safest option.

But some schools do come up with creative ways to help the community take advantage of the facilities after school hours. For example, one school had a committee of parents who made all the appropriate arrangements and ran both a breakfast club and an after-school activity club with minimal teacher input.

At least one school in Hong Kong employs a qualified supervisor to take care of any students, like your daughter, who need to wait at school for any reason. Of course, there may be specific reasons such arrangements will not work at the school in question. But there are possibilities worth exploring.

In the meantime, you can be assured that your daughter's school has its reasons and should be happy to articulate these for you. Although I always recommend parents speak openly about their concerns, it is also a good idea to enter such conversations with potential solutions of your own.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school

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