When I’m out on the road talking to schools about our children tracking technology product, ClassHug, the subject of Hi-Viz crops up a lot, it seems to be a hot topic at the moment.
It reached a head when the head of OFSTED Amanda Spielmann wrote an article in the Sunday Telegraph saying children must stop being forced to wear hi-vis jackets on school trips “like troupes of mini-construction workers minus the hard hats”.
As could be predicted, these thoughts from the Government’s chief inspector caused a bit of a storm, online comments ranging from from the supportive “At last a bit of common sense from OFSTED” to “I bet she’s never taking a class of kids on the tube” at the other end.
Some schools swear by HiViz, they don’t let the kids off the premises unless they’re wearing it whereas others have a very different view and see it as the nanny state spoiling our fun. As with most things in life, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
While the motives for putting children in Hi-Viz are unquestioningly positive, I got thinking about what we’re actually looking to achieve, and if there is a better way to do it.
Unquestionably there are occasions where Hi-Viz clothing on children makes complete sense: walking down country lanes on gloomy winter’s days; on a tour of a factory, quarry or power station; or when out in the dark for bonfire night (where it’s the reflective tape, not the Hi-Viz material that matters).
But there are other times where it seems crazy: in the park during spring (when the whole of nature seems to be bright green/yellow); in a museum on a bright summers day; or walking between school sites in our towns and cities.
At times I feel the desire to be seen to be doing something is overwhelming. Having something, anything you can show to OFSTED et al. to demonstrate that you’re taking extra steps with safeguarding means that decisions aren’t always in the best interests of our children.
It’s the classic Politician’s Fallacy as described in Yes, Prime Minister:
You could argue “well, where’s the harm in it?”, but there’s two further questions this raises:
1) Does Hi-Viz achieve what you want it to do?
To me, Hi-Viz should be used to make people stand out in genuinely dangerous environments – building sites, quarries, North Sea oil rigs, not The Natural History Museum on a sunny Tuesday morning in June.
If a car is going to run over a child wearing their bright red school sweatshirt, a white polo shirt or blue coat, they’re not going to stop because the child is in yellow. There have been a number of studies over the year (example) that show Hi-Viz has limited use in road safety for pedestrians.
But if the purpose of Hi-Viz isn’t to make the outside world see the children better, is the real reason to help the teachers keep track of their class (a very worthwhile and essential task)?
When I used to spend a lot of time in South Kensington, every daw saw legions of school coaches offloading hordes of identikit children outside the museums, all wearing Hi-Viz jackets to see a dinosaur that died 100 million years ago.
How teachers are supposed to tell their class from everyone else when they’re all dressed the same is beyond me. At least if they were left in just the school uniform, each school looks different.
But even if you’re the only school / only class in the place, you’ll often have TAs and other responsible adults looking after sub-groups of the class, lots of excited children running around makes it really hard to know where everyone they’re looking after is, Hi-Viz does nothing to help.
2) Does it benefit or hinder the children?
The world is not an inherently dangerous place and we shouldn’t make children feel like they’re in danger whenever they step outside of the classroom. Of course there are risks, but we’ve got amazing teachers all blessed with common sense, and not every risk needs to be mitigated with a bright yellow jacket. Making children feel like they’re vulnerable in the big, bad world doesn’t help their self-confidence or desire to explore.
Often we take children out of the classroom to be part of nature, Forest School in particular is hugely valuable for the development of children, but what do children want to do in the woods? Run, climb, explore, play, find wildlife, learn about the outside world.
Children can’t play “Hide and Seek” in Hi-Viz, wildlife will run a mile, woods are not inherently dangerous places and children need to feel like they’re part of nature, not that they need to be protected from it.
If you want to keep track of your children, have something positive to say when OFSTED comes calling, but not smother them, you should take a look at ClassHug – I’d be happy to arrange a demonstration. With Hi-Viz you can’t see what’s behind you, round a corner or who’s hiding behind that big tree, or know every second that your whole class is where you want them, but with ClassHug, you can!
Please comment below, let me know what you think? Have I got it wrong, are there benefits I’ve missed?