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Why teachers shouldn’t be responsible for keeping kids covered in suncream

Four pupils from Buile Hill Visual Arts College in Salford were so badly burnt during a school trip to a waterpark near Barcelona that they required treatment at the burns unit of Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital on their return home. It’s sparked a debate about who was responsible: the teachers in charge or the pupils themselves?

After one of the parents criticised the four teachers, who accompanied the 41 pupils on the trip, for not making enough of an effort to ensure the teens were protected from the sun another parent has come forward to say she doesn’t blame the teachers.

Wendy Cunnah, mother of 13-year-old Joshua, says it was her son’s own fault that he got so badly burnt. Nursery nurse Wendy agreed with the school’s head teacher, James Inman, who stated that the staff had taken all necessary steps to warn the pupils about the risks of sun exposure.

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“The children were told numerous times to put suncream on by the teachers,” said Wendy, as reported in the Manchester Evening News. “My son had Factor 30 which I had packed for him. He put it on before he got to the waterpark and again once he got there. But he was having such a good time on the slides, he then forgot to put it on again. He accepts full responsibility. He called me from Spain and said he had been burned. I told him to shower and use aftersun. I believe the teachers could not have done more.”

I find it a bit of a stretch to blame the teachers for this one. If the pupils were younger it would be a different story. But surely 13-year-olds are old enough to take responsibility for their own suncream application?

It seems that more and more demands are being placed on teachers, with the lines between what they are and aren’t responsible for becoming increasingly blurry.

Healthy eating, for example. Teaching kids about nutrition as part of the national curriculum is one thing; being required to take on the role of “food police” is another thing entirely. Earlier this month a government minister confirmed that teachers can lawfully “confiscate, keep or destroy” unhealthy snacks in children’s lunch boxes.

Answering a question in the House of Lords, education minister Lord Nash said “there is nothing to prevent schools from having a policy of inspecting lunch boxes for food items that are prohibited under their school food policies”.

In June Cherry Tree Primary School in Colchester angered parents when children had scotch eggs and Peperami confiscated by staff. A nut cereal bar and packet of 100 percent fruit chews were also reportedly taken from pupils because of their hidden sugar.

But what teacher wants to spend time inspecting pupils’ lunch boxes? The responsibility for providing healthy packed lunches and snacks for kids lies solely with the parents and, if they choose to ignore the advice and guidelines of the school, teachers shouldn’t have to pursue the matter.

The same applies to all basic life skills. Such as toilet training. Unbelievably some parents send their kids to school without mastering this, believing that the teacher will “sort it out.” Of course, accidents happen and the younger the pupils, the more they may view a teacher as a surrogate parent during school hours. But there’s no way toilet training falls within the remit of a teacher’s role under any circumstances.

The Guardian‘s “Secret Teacher” said earlier this year that she’s seen “several children start school in nappies or — even worse – without them for the first time.” She also reveals she has “two children who regularly arrive [at school] in pushchairs.”

Ultimately a teacher is responsible for delivering the national curriculum to her pupils. Teaching basic life skills isn’t part of the package and nor should parents expect it to be. That goes for toilet training young kids and putting suncream on older ones.

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