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Losing Touch



With teachers and carers no longer allowed to offer comforting hugs – or even put on a plaster, their relationship with the children they look after is suffering, writes Josie Appleton.It’s an everyday drama at primary schools up and down the country – but according to London teacher Kate Abley, a child wetting himself in the classroom is no longer a molehill, it’s a mountain. “One male teacher refused to change children – he’d get other teachers to do it,” says Abley. “Another teacher would call the child’s mother to come in and deal with it.” Those teachers who were prepared to change a child’s wet pants were supposed to take another adult into the changing rooms, to keep an eye on them. “The whole thing was completely impractical.” There’s a growing panic among childcare professionals about touching young children in their care which, says a group of academics at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Institute of Education, is causing concern and uncertainty about what’s OK and what’s not when it comes to innocent physical contact with youngsters. In research they are planning to publish later this year, academics Heather Piper, John Powell and Hannah Smith describe how some child carers are reluctant even to put a plaster on a child’s scraped knee. Very young children have to treat their injuries themselves – with the nursery worker or teacher giving instructions on how to open the box, take out a plaster and stick it on. If a child’s parent is nearby, he or she is summoned to deal with the injury. Piper describes it as a crazy situation. “Many people are behaving in completely ludicrous ways. What is cast into doubt is the process of normal nurturing – the way adults are with children.” Comforting a child when they’re upset, putting a plaster on them, changing their wet pants – all these everyday ways in which adults care for young children are now seen as suspect……….Adults view themselves as potential abusers, in need of round-the-clock surveillance. According to Professor Alison Jones, a world expert on this issue, who teaches at the University of Auckland, teachers see themselves not just as dangerous for the child but the child as dangerous for them. This is hardly conducive to a positive sense of vocation – and it’s perhaps not surprising that young men are turning away from primary school teaching in their droves…. ….Perhaps the best way ahead would be the simplest: individual teachers trying to just act normally around kids. But on a grander scale, maybe what’s needed is this: for adults to learn to trust one another again.

The Guardian