Posted on March 7, 2006

Why Black Sheep are Barred and Humpty Can’t Be Cracked

Alexandra Blair, Times (London), March 7, 2006

Traditional nursery rhymes are being rewritten at nursery schools to avoid causing offence to children.

Instead of singing “Baa baa, black sheep” as generations of children have learnt to do, toddlers in Oxfordshire are being taught to sing “Baa baa, rainbow sheep”.

The move, which critics will seize on as an example of political correctness, was made after the nurseries decided to re-evaluate their approach to equal opportunities.

Stuart Chamberlain, manager of the Family Centre in Abingdon and the Sure Start centre in Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, told the local Courier Journal newspaper: “We have taken the equal opportunities approach to everything we do.

“This is fairly standard across nurseries. We are following stringent equal opportunities rules. No one should feel pointed out because of their race, gender or anything else.”

In keeping with the new approach, teachers at the nurseries have reportedly also changed the ending of Humpty Dumpty so as not to upset the children and dropped the seven dwarfs from the title of Snow White.

A spokesman for Ofsted, the watchdog which inspects Sure Start centres, confirmed that centres are expected to “have regard to anti-discrimination good practice” and that staff should “actively promote equality of opportunity”.

Gervase Duffield, a Conservative district councillor representing Sutton Courtenay and Appleford, denounced the ban as ridiculous.

“It’s the sort of thing that people continually do nowadays — it’s become something of a curse,” he said. “Why do people waste time and money doing this sort of thing when there are far more important things to think about when it comes to educating our children?”

A mother whose daughter attends the Sure Start nursery at the Family Centre in Abingdon, who did not want to be named, said parents had been astonished by the change.

“Baa Baa, Black Sheep has been one of the most well-known nursery rhymes for generations. For people to come along and fiddle with it is ridiculous. What on earth is a rainbow sheep anyway?

“I’ve spoken to other parents about it and none of us has ever heard of anyone getting offended by the words ‘black sheep’.”

This is not the first time, however, that the nursery rhyme — written in 1744 satirising the taxes imposed on wool exports — has fallen foul of political correctness. In 2000 Birmingham City Council tried to ban the rhyme, after claiming that it was racist and portrayed negative stereotypes. The council rescinded the ban after black parents said it was ludicrous.

Last year, a nursery school in Aberdeen caused uproar, when teachers changed the lyrics to “Baa baa, happy sheep”.

Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent Teachers Association, said: “It’s really sad. Children for generations have loved and enjoyed nursery rhymes and it’s very sad if adult political correctness doesn’t allow them to grow up in an unbiased world.”

A DfES spokesperson said: “We don’t support this approach to the teaching of traditional nursery rhymes, but any such decision would be taken locally.”