Wateringbury Headteacher describes 'nightmare tradition' of birthday sweets in school
A headteacher has criticised the 'nightmare tradition' of children handing out sweets on their birthday.
In many primary schools youngsters bring in sugary treats like chocolate or Haribo to give out to classmates as a treat on their special day.
But there are concerns it encourages them to be unhealthy and could add to the problem of obesity and tooth decay.
Recent figures have revealed almost nine in 10 hospital tooth extractions among young children are for rotten teeth.
Nearly 13,000 under-5s in England needed the operation last year because of their sugar intake and Public Health England says most youngsters are eating around eight cubes more per day than they should.
Wateringbury Primary School near Maidstone is trying to tackle the issue by banning pupils from handing out sweets on their birthdays.
Headteacher Chasey Crawford-Usher says: "I can understand how it started, I think it probably goes back years and years. My view is that things have changed today and the amount of sugar children consume is out of all proportion to what they should be eating, and therefore the tradition is no longer acceptable.
"There are lots of other things schools and families can do to celebrate birthdays that don't involve sugar."
She's also concerned the practice is unfair on mums and dads who don't want their children to eat unhealthy snacks.
"A few parents came to me and explained the amount of pressure they were under to comply with this tradition even though they disagreed with it," she added.
"It sets up conflict at every level - the whole thing is just a nightmare for schools, and a nightmare for parents.'
She says there was also a lot of litter on the school playground as children were coming out of school with sweets and dropping the wrappers on the floor.
Ms Crawford-Usher said: "The most important reason for banning the practice was my growing awareness of the amount of sugar being consumed and the number of children in our school that were undergoing tooth extraction and also just had really serious tooth decay.
"I can't believe that with the dental care we have and what people should know about teeth and dental hygiene, we're in a situation where more teeth are being extracted on young people today than was happening 50 years ago. I think that's shocking in our society."
With around 30 children in each class, sweets were being handed out for birthdays most weeks, which the Wateringbury Primary head says was "out of control".
She says when she first banned it, there was a bit of a backlash: "Immediately a number of parents thought I was being cruel and unsympathetic and I tried to explain that I had to make a policy that was going to put everybody on an equal playing field."
Since banning children from handing out sweets on their birthday, Ms Crawford-Usher says she's seen a real difference: "For a start out playgrounds are litter free. The children quickly accept rules that have a strong reason for them. I'm all for children questioning rules and discussing them because they've got a point of view, and if I can explain a clear reason they accept it.
"It's really important that parents understand that we've got the children's wellbeing at heart, it's not because I don't like sweets.
Ms Crawford-Usher thinks the whole culture around birthdays needs to change. She said: "There's this assumption that every celebration has to involve sugar and I think we need to change children's perceptions about that as well as parents' perceptions. There are other ways of celebrating and it doesn't have to mean something that is bad for our bodies and particularly bad for our teeth."
And she says other headteachers should think about banning birthday sweets as well: 'We have a moral responsibility to consider the wider health and wellbeing of our children whilst they're in our care, and we have to set rules and boundaries that we're comfortable with.'
Crisps are also banned from luncboxes at Wateringbury Primary.
Olympic race walker, Tom Bosworth, has criticised the decision.
Taking to social media this morning he said: "Again, common sense needs to be used here. Really what is happening to society to ban kids from having sweets on their birthday. - ban them every other day if you like, but let a child be a child on their birthday though."