Liverpool Merchant Taylors' school first in UK to give rugby head guards to Year 7 pupils to guard against concussion

Report by Victoria Grimes

A school in Liverpool is to become the first in the UK to offer free head guards for use on the rugby pitch to protect students from concussion.

From September 2021, every boy in year seven at Merchant Taylors' Boys School in Crosby will be given a free head guard which will be used during training and in matches.

The pioneering trial aims to help protect younger players from concussion and serious head injuries.

David Wickes, Headmaster at Merchant Taylors’ Boys School, said: "There is no golden ticket here - there is no one thing that can be done that will completely eradicate all risk. It's part of a suite of measures this helmet, to reduce the risk."

Merchant Taylors’ has a long and distinguished history on the rugby field, with many players, including Ben Kay and Richard Greenwood, having begun their professional journeys at our school.

David Wickes, Headteacher, Merchant Taylors Boys' School

"A recent leaver, James Harper, made his debut for Sale Sharks only recently in the Premiership."

David Wickes, headteacher at Merchant Taylors' in Crosby Credit: MTS

"We are always looking for ways to innovate across our sports provision and to keep the boys as safe as possible while they play the sports they love.

"We want to ensure we are doing everything we can to maximise safety and reassure parents that our pupils’ wellbeing is our absolute priority."

It is a school with rugby at its very heart.

With World Cup and British Lions stars amongst its alumni, they want to continue the tradition and make sure the next generation of future stars are as safe as possible.

Merchant Taylors Headmaster and rugby coach David Wickes gets stuck in with training.

Any parent who has watched a school rugby match from the sidelines on a Saturday morning knows how tough a watch they can be.

These days, many players wear head protection, but there is no way to eradicate the risks entirely.

There are now strict protocols to deal with head injuries and concussion - but in previous decades, there was less awareness of the risks.

Campaigners have welcomed the increased awareness but say more needs to be done.

Luke Griggs is Deputy Chief Executive of brain injury charity Headway. He says there is much more to do: "As sport gets faster and stronger, contact is getting greater, and that's going to lead to an existential problem unless we deal with it now.

"The fact is there is no simple solution to reducing or eliminating concussion.

We have to make sure that all players, at all levels, take an 'if in doubt, sit it out', approach to head injuries.

Luke Griggs, Headway

It was announced this week that 50 former elite rugby players are joining a study looking into whether they are more likely to show early warning signs of dementia.

The Alzheimer's Society work comes amid growing concern over long-term head-injury risks in rugby and football.

The study, which began in 2013, is already monitoring 700 members of the public aged 40-59, assessing them every two years to check brain function and for early signs of damage. The rugby players' results will be compared.

Merchant Taylors Old Boy Ben Kay is amongst them. He left the school in 1995 before embarking on a career which saw him play for England.

Ben Kay in action at the Rugby World Cup 2007 - Semi Final - England v France Credit: PA

He spoke exclusively to ITV Granada Reports about the school's head guards initiative: