Children need risk to thrive as adults, says Dragons’ Den judge

The obsessive “safety-first” culture in schools will rob Britain of the next generation of entrepreneurs just when the country needs them most, a leading businessmen has claimed.

Simon Woodroffe, founder of Yo! Sushi and a judge on the BBC show Dragons' Den, has told The Times that children must be exposed to more danger to help them to cope with the daily risk-taking required in the modern business world.

He said that he was in despair when he heard that schools were no longer taking pupils canoeing or camping in case they injured themselves.

“My greatest fear is our children will grow up expecting to be looked after their whole lives, and expect corporate reasonableness for their entire working life. There would be no way we could compete with India and China with that attitude. Businesses there are doing everything they can to succeed,” he said. “We need to encourage children to push themselves, to go beyond their limits, in order to build a nation of bold and confident people.”

Mr Woodroffe, 56, is patron of the Go4It awards for schools, run by the Heads, Teachers and Industry (HTI) enterprise, to encourage sensible risktaking and rivalry among pupils. The awards were launched last year by Lord Jones of Birmingham, Minister of State for Trade and Development and a former Director-General of the CBI, in response to concerns of employers over the “cotton-wool kids” culture.

HTI is the leading agency that links education with business and is a key adviser to the Government.

Lord Jones and other HTI leaders were horrified at last year's Go4It awards to discover that one of the winning schools was not allowed to attend because the locals authority deemed the journey to London too risky for the pupils.

There is increasing concern that health and safety is stifling schools, some of which have banned traditional playground games such as conkers, snowball fights and cartwheeling, or prohibited pupils from doing the backstroke in swimming lessons.

Mr Woodroffe said: “We need to expose ourselves to danger to build the muscles of self-protection. If you don't learn to protect yourself when you are young, you may end up in even more danger later on.”

It was worrying that while people of his generation thought that health and safety was getting out of control, young people thought it was natural to ban adventurous activities because they might be dangerous, he said.

Mr Woodroffe left school at 16 with two O levels and spent 30 years in the entertainment business. He helped to stage Live Aid in 1985 and went into television before setting up Yo! Sushi in 1997. A new venture to produce extreme sport videos in the 1990s was a flop. He said, however, that he had not been afraid to fail and neither should children.

The Go4It awards will be presented tonight to schools which have developed a positive approach to risk. One winner is Langdale, a primary school in Cumbria, where pupils have just swum across Windermere and take geography lessons up mountains.

Meanwhile, the Children's Society is conducting a two-year inquiry about the pressures and restrictions on young people. It found that the average distance a nine-year-old girl is allowed to roam has been reduced from 840 metres in 1970 to 280 in 1997.

The limit today appears to be the bottom of the garden, the charity said. Sue Palmer, an education expert and author of Toxic Childhood, argues that play has changed radically since the 1970s with outdoor activities replaced by screen time indoors.

“What's happened is a sort of sedentary, screen-based existence has crept up on children. They used to be free-range and now they're practically battery children, living indoors, experiencing through the medium of a screen,” she said.

Related Times Links