Playing with fire: Embracing risk and danger in schools

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Playing with fire: Embracing risk and danger in schools

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An empowering book that shows teachers and leaders how to embrace a culture of risk-taking and danger in their schools - by a Headmaster who walks the walk.



Mike Fairclough’s new book, “Playing With Fire” is about embracing Risk and Danger in schools.

The book explains that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Ofsted want school children to do risky and dangerous activities, from playing with conkers and throwing snowballs, to firing rifles and lighting fires.

Fairclough is the Headteacher of West Rise Junior school, an award winning school in the top 5% of schools for the 2016 SATs and with the top grade from Ofsted for Behaviour and Safety.

He shows the reader how to cultivate Grit and Resilience in children and move them out of their comfort zones, whilst also giving them more trust and freedom. Children can then be trusted to use guns and knives and to light fires responsibly. Fairclough also tells teachers to go to the gym and to step out of their own comfort zones and to stop complaining about “The System” if they truly want to help their pupils.

West Rise is on a council estate in Eastbourne, UK. It is on the edge of marshland, which the school runs as a farm, with animals such a water buffalo and bees on it. The story behind this unusual school is revealed.

The book describes the power of learning outside and its impact on child development. It also explains why Fairclough believes that children are being misdiagnosed and labelled with Autism, ADHD and anxiety and why this limits their ability to cope with life’s challenges.

“Playing With Fire” offers an ideological framework within which to embrace Risk and Danger within schools and with the full permission of the authorities. An opportunity for teachers and parents to change the way in which we educate our children.

About the author

Mike Fairclough is headmaster of West Rise Junior School, the TES Primary School of the Year. He is a regular contributor to the TES and conference speaker.


A man after my own heart, Mike Fairclough believes in the Jesuit principle of management – namely that it is easier to beg forgiveness than seek permission. In this down-to-earth book he energises readers to be creative risk-takers in the best interests of providing memorable and meaningful learning for primary children.”
Roy Blatchford, Founding Director, National Education Trust

“This is a book about taking risks and embracing challenges. Mike Fairclough gives an inspirational account of what ‘learning’ can look like when you have a bronze age settlement and a herd of water buffalo at your school.”
Sue Cowley, teacher, best-selling author

“A wonderful book. Mike Fairclough puts us all back in touch with essential parts of ourselves and our responsibilities as educators – to challenge, inspire and nurture in children a love of real life and the outdoors. It is essential reading for all teachers and school leaders, at any point in their careers.”
William Stow, Head of the School of Teacher Education and Development, Canterbury Christ Church University

“Just like a visit to West Rise Junior School, Mike’s book is refreshing, inspiring, warm, exciting, principled and massively thought-provoking. We need the balance, values and excitement that West Rise offers, in every school.”
Jonathan Barnes, author of Cross-Curricular Learning

“Inspiring examples backed by sound educational principles coupled with straightforward advice makes this book the ideal launchpad for rethinking your school’s approach to creative and risky endeavours. Now, where are those matches?”
@ThatBoyCanTeach, Classroom-based Primary Academy senior leader

“Once in a while you encounter someone who inspires you. Hearing about and then meeting Mike Fairclough was one such encounter for me. I spent most of my tenure as Chair of HSE encouraging teachers and parents to recognise their role in helping children to learn about risk to prepare them for life. Here is someone who does exactly that and much, much more. Every school should own a copy of this book and learn from this teacher’s shining example.”
Dame Judith Hackitt DBE FREng former Chair of HSE

“If I take the time to read a book about education, I want to be inspired, I want it to make me reflect on my own practice and change it. So thank you, Mike Fairclough, because your book did just this; this book has confirmed what I believe and encouraged me to push the boundaries further.”
Christina Zanelli Tyler, head teacher, West Cliff Primary School, in the TES

“This is a stunner. A beautifully written account of how to get a jaw-droppingly powerful curriculum, complete with water buffalo, 1000 bees, shooting (yes, shooting) endorsed by Ofsted and the Health and Safety Executive. Mike Fairclough and his colleagues have shown how, by removing the cotton wool culture, they are able to give children a truly amazing deal. ‘Playing with Fire’ shows how it is possible to do the same in any school, in any environment.”
Mary Myatt, advisor, inspector, author of High Challenge, Low Threat

“Mike Fairclough is a breath of fresh air in a world of increasing regulation and assessment in schools. It is not always easy to get under the skin of an institution through a single visit. Mike did just that when he visited Bedales, showing great insight in grasping the school’s underlying philosophy and articulating it so compellingly. He is an inspiration to us all.”
Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales School

“A fundamentally vital book that challenges our risk averse culture and demonstrates in a very candid and honest way the importance of giving children
the space to be creative and questioning. West Rise Juniors is a phenomenal place and Mike Fairclough is an exceptional educationalist.”
Dr Henry Ward, Head of Education, Freelands Foundation

“This is a very important, very necessary, and very beautiful book for all parents educators around the world to treasure. Read it and rediscover the best of your childhood—and how to bring it to children everywhere.”
Barbara Oakley, PhD, author of New York Times science best seller, A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science, and instructor of Learning
How to Learn, the world’s largest online course.

“You don’t read a book like this every day about how to run a school! I read this at one sitting - it proved riveting!”
Paul Garvey, education consultant and owner of QA South-West

"How often do we hear teachers bemoaning the fact that there is no risk or excitement in the curriculum anymore? Mike Fairclough's book 'Playing with fire ' dispels the Health & Safety myths once and for all and offers teachers an insight into the benefits of risk and danger in the curriculum and how we can once again inject these elements into our pupil's lives.In his book, Mike offers authentic examples from across the education sector that demonstrate inspiring practice which is not only exciting and engaging-the stuff that makes life long memories-but which also has a significant impact on attitudes to learning and personal growth.  I heartily recommend 'Playing with Fire' to all practitioners. Read it and use it. It will ignite the adventurer in you!"
Dame Kate Dethridge


Additional Information

Author Mike Fairclough
ISBN 9781911382072
No of pages 96
Format Paperback
Publication Date 6 Oct 2016

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