Archive | March, 2014

Should we be debating the Accident Compensation Commission process? When Bernard Spiegal found out that I was going to be in New Zealand (NZ),

26 Mar



When Bernard Spiegal found out that I was going to be in New Zealand (NZ), he asked me if I could find out about attitudes to risk in NZ Primary Schools, so my daughter, Lizzy, arranged a meeting with Nat Halliday. Clearly this can hardly be considered as a representative sample, but hopefully better than none and it was confirmed by two Local Authority Officers with responsibility for play and opens paces and two suppliers to parks and schools!


Lizzy introduced me to Nat Halliday, a friend of hers living in Lyttelton who is a Primary School Teacher at Diamond Harbour Primary School. Prior to teaching in NZ, Nat was a teacher in a UK Private school for young children.


Just to give a little background, Diamond Harbour is a small rural community on the shore of Lyttelton Harbour that also acts as a middle class suburb to Christchurch. The school has 130 pupils in 6 classes and has a catchment that includes remote farms on the Banks Peninsular.


Interestingly, the performance of schools in NZ is measured rather differently than how we measure performance here. They are measured on what Nat referred to as a Decile rating, based on the mean wealth of the pupil’s parents. As I understood it this means that the performance of schools in the lowest decile is not expected to achieve the same level of results as those in the upper deciles.


With the present Conservative government in NZ academic standards similar to those now being imposed in the UK are being adopted. Previously there had been far greater freedom both in curriculum and teaching methods. For example several approaches are offered in maths for solving simple arithmetical problems and children are allowed to adopt the approach with which they are most comfortable. So there is little imposed methodology. In addition great importance is attached to nature and particularly to indigenous and native plants and animals.


Set against this and again similar to the UK there has been a real awareness and move away from risk aversion to an enthusiasm for increased exposure to risk in forms that children can both identify and manage. The example that Nat gave was that children once again are being allowed, even encouraged, to climb trees. The process of risk assessment is only used for school trips outside the school premises and not, for example to trees within the grounds, where children would be expected to use their common sense. Nat himself suggests to children that if they are making a decision about the safety of a tree then working on the principle that a branch needs to be the same thickness as their leg is a sensible place to begin!


However there is a big difference in NZ to the UK and that is the New Zealand Accident Compensation Commission (ACC) The law underpinning ACC was enacted during the tenure of Norman Kirk NZ Prime Minister in 1974, and is fundamental to the way risk is managed. It guarantees free medical assistance and treatment and 80% of pay lost due to the accident. Payment is conditional on agreement not to sue or litigate. This has resulted in a no claims culture across all the sectors that I met. These included Busy Cs preschool care where my Grandson, Alby, is cared for, Local Authority Parks, where I received four independent confirmations of the effectiveness of ACC and finally in the Primary School Sector from Nat. He confirmed that there is a no blame culture, suing simply does not happen.


So my conclusion is that if we are serious about increasing the momentum against a claims culture and a blame culture, we ought to give real consideration to research into the ACC approach. We need to assess the relative costs to Society of the two systems, both financially and in terms of children’s well being. We would also have to anticipate the resistance of all the vested, financial and professional institutions that would stand to lose from such a move. I wonder if this might not be the next direction the PSF ought to lobby for?


So perhaps I should finish with an anecdote that Nat told me during our conversation to exemplify the attitude to risk that is typical of NZ. In Little River, a small strung-out community on the road between Christchurch and Akorea on the Banks Peninsular, there is a twenty meter long water slide to which kids come from miles around (as well as the excellent coffee, café and art gallery). Not very long ago the slide broke and a kid came off and broke and arm, they were taken to hospital, the owner mended the slide, no one was sued, the slide was reopened for kids and life simply carried on.


Shouldn’t this be our aspiration for Britain? After all NZ was the first country in the world to grant universal franchise to women, maybe they could also be the first Country to lead the way on resolving the compensation culture.


I have to confess to a profound sadness on reading Bernard Spiegal’s Blog ( Holding fast: It’s not the evidence that does it ), as I feel it is the antithesis

10 Mar

I have to confess to a profound sadness on reading Bernard Spiegal’s Blog   Holding fast: It’s not the evidence that does it as I feel it is the antithesis of my approach to life. I believe that progress is the result of positive engagement and debate and that Government, whether you like it or not, wields the power and the purse strings. Not to engage (which is what I read his blog to infer), seems to me to achieve little other than to retain one’s own moral high ground. I also believe that the two rounds of funding from the last Government were achieved through some intensive engagement and although the outcome was far from perfect, it did significantly benefit children.

My own view is that we have a responsibility as adults to engage, risk, even welcome, compromise in order to make marginal and slow progress. We have to accept that under our own form of imperfect democracy we will experience setbacks. We must not be put off by these but pick ourselves up and re-enter the debate, re-motivated and even more determined. I sincerely hope that that is what I, the Children’s Play Policy Forum and Play England are doing. I make no apologies for it, although I do sympathise with those whose anger and frustration make this a near impossibility.