It’s the ‘bonkers’ ban which brought to a head the national debate about health and safety ‘gone mad’.
The decision taken by scores of schools to outlaw conkers from the playground – amid concerns about nut allergies as well as injuries in combat – sparked a public outcry.
But with almost 200 competitors set to descend on the World Conker Championships in Northamptonshire this weekend, schools in the Black Country and Staffordshire are reviving the popular pastime as they host their own contests.
And the goggles favoured by some safety first headteachers will be left behind as our school leaders prefer to simply have staff supervise the games.
Gary Gentle, headteacher at Bilston Church of England Primary School in Albany Crescent, Bilston, said: “We are certainly not going to ban conkers here. The age of innocence is very much alive and kicking at this school.
“Kids love to go outside and learn and we are keen to feature the environment as part of our lessons.
“We have lots of horse chestnut trees on our site and teachers use conkers as a valuable learning aid, for example teaching our little ones how to count.
“We can get so much learning out of our natural resources, why let that go to waste?
“I can see why some schools might look at banning conkers from a health and safety angle, but providing pupils are well supervised it is all innocent fun as far as we are concerned.”
And headteacher of Norton Canes Primary School, Paul Whitacre, has confirmed the school is continuing its traditional annual conker competition again in 2013.
Conkers hit the headlines in 2009 when then opposition leader David Cameron called for an end to what he saw as an overly cautious attitude to games and pastimes which had once been national institutions.
Then in 2011 a report revealed games like conkers and British bulldogs were disappearing from school playgrounds amid health and safety concerns. The survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers found games like tag and marbles were also getting banned, with headteachers blaming the reduced number of staff available to supervise pupils and fears over being sued if something went wrong in a game.
But as 192 competitors prepare for the World Conker Championships in Oundle tomorrow, the consensus among headteachers in the region is – let the games begin.
Headteachers at Red Hall Primary School in Dudley, Leamore Primary School in Walsall and St Peter’s Church of England School in Cannock said they had no plans in place to ban conkers and all of their students are still able to bring them into school to play with at lunch and break times.
Toni Beech, acting headteacher at Pinfold Street Primary School in Wednesbury, said: “We don’t have a conker policy. If some children wanted to bring them in to school we would set up a supervised area at lunchtime.”
She added: “I do think it is a shame that it is a dying tradition.”
At Wren’s Nest Primary School in Dudley, headteacher Ruth Wylie recently held an assembly to teach students about autumn and brought in a basket of conkers, while at Devonshire Infants School in Smethwick, deputy headteacher Sharon Gibson said a risk assessment is carried out to make sure games are safe for pupils.
She added: “We have organised conker competitions in the past which are supervised by the teachers and we make sure that it is all safe for the children.”
However, at Springfield Primary School in Dudley Road, Rowley Regis, headteacher Sue Powis said although there was not a ban in place, children were discouraged from bringing conkers into school.