Abingdon School headteacher Michael Windsor explains why it is important that pupils are still allowed to take risks in order to grow and develop.

ACADEMICS from Newcastle University recently suggested that boys and girls should not be allowed to play contact rugby, citing the risk of concussion and the longer-term problems that this could cause.

It seems reasonable of course to take action in the interests of the health and well-being of our children.

But the question of whether we allow contact in youth rugby leads to a wider-ranging, and I believe important, debate about the level of risk we are prepared to let our children take.

Let’s deal with the issue of rugby first.

This is a sport that is thriving nationally and we are fortunate to have a particularly strong club and school scene in the Oxford area.

Undoubtedly the sport does carry some risk but this is hugely outweighed by the benefits it brings, which are particularly valuable in a time where obesity is on the rise.

It’s been really exciting to see the growth in the number of people, and especially girls, playing rugby in recent years and it would be a real shame if this were to be reversed in response to the Newcastle research.

Rugby has changed significantly in its approach for younger players.

The game that our children play is very different from the one that we see on our screens during the Six Nations.

The changes made to youth rugby put the emphasis on skills and safety rather than physical power. For instance, scrummaging is introduced in a phased approach that ensures that we no longer see weaker or smaller packs being marched backwards down the field at a dangerous pace.

Contact is introduced gradually so that by the time players are involved at a senior level, they have had the chance to learn the skills that will allow them to tackle in a safer way.

Far more sensible and rigorous protocols are now in place to prevent and treat concussion.

Perhaps most importantly, the training offered to coaches and teachers is considerably more professional and serious that it ever used to be.

Concussion is scary and can have very significant consequences.

But I see the response of the RFU as a good example of managed risk, an approach that is echoed in schools today in many different areas.

Although we love to pour scorn on the myths of health and safety gone mad, of conkers being banned in the playground, in reality I think teachers recognise that pupils do need to take risks sometimes in the interests of personal development.

Anyone who has seen the growth in confidence in a pupil who has just completed her Duke of Edinburgh expedition or completed his first solo climb can bear witness to the huge benefit that overcoming challenge and risk brings to young people.

Adolescents are by their nature risk-takers, as they work out the world for themselves and challenge the rules that have been passed on to them by their elders.

I would far rather they indulged their appetite for risk in an environment that is controlled and fundamentally safe.

Indeed, we need to see that dreaded phrase ‘health and safety’ as a concept of enablement, an approach that simply allows our young people to live their lives to the full in as safe a way as possible.

We will never be able to remove risk from the lives of young people.

Let’s embrace it, manage it and then watch our children thrive.