Headmasters lead conkers revolt

Last updated at 12:07 12 October 2004

A band of headteachers is refusing to bow to the "health and safety" protocols responsible for the national upsurge in school conker bans.

This Friday, Creighton Muirhead, head of Ruskin Junior School, in Upper Stratton, Swindon, is cancelling afternoon lessons to stage his school's seventh annual conker championships - an event which every pupil is urged to take part in.

Meanwhile at Little Garth School in Nayland, near Sudbury, Suffolk, headmaster Peter Jones is encouraging his pupils to compete in their own conker competition.

This as other schools around the country impose conker bans because they are deemed too dangerous, or, as in one school's case in Carlisle, insisting pupils wear goggles to take on their opponents.

Since mid-September Mr Muirhead has been advising his 400 pupils, aged seven to 11, to gather their conkers and harden them for battle by soaking them in vinegar before baking them in the oven.

"Every year we have a school conker championship, the whole school gets involved and the children love it," he said.

Lessening children's enjoyment

He told how banning conkers is simply a way of lessening children's enjoyment of life.

In the light of various schools' decision to outlaw the conker on health and safety grounds, he said: "Eventually children are going to end up doing nothing apart from sitting in their chairs.

"And that will present health and safety issues of its own. The children need to enjoy themselves.

"It will end up with our children never doing anything if we not careful children never using the bus or going into town by themselves. There is a risk in living and its about striking a balance."

Notices with the message 'Get Your Championship Conkers' are up around the school.

"Everyone is encouraged to have a conker, the children need to be involved in what is a celebration of the time of year," said Mr Muirhead.

"We've never had a parent say they do not want their child to take part."

The conker championships, which will be fully supervised and will involve the school's autistic and special needs pupils, will run from 1pm to 3pm this Friday.

Meanwhile Mr Muirhead's kindred spirit in Suffolk, fellow headmaster Peter Jones, is equally keen for his 250 pupils to compete for the coveted "golden conker."

"I feel it's about time some schools made a stand on things like this," Mr Jones said as his school's second annual conker championships taking place this week in break times - gets under way.

"Obviously you have got to take into account health and safety considerations but if you considered everything to be too much of a risk you would exclude anything exciting."

Conker ban

Last week at Ivy Lane Primary in Chippenham, Wiltshire, near to Mr Muirhead's school, a conker ban was imposed by headmistress Chris Marshall.

It was not to protect children's eyes from flying conkers, but for fear the horse chestnuts could trigger potentially hazardous anaphylactic nut-related reactions.

But Hazel Gowland, food adviser at the Anaphylaxis Campaign, and a sufferer herself, said a "common sense approach" would have been better than a ban.

"I do not like bans but I understand schools coming to this decision because they are frightened," she commented.