Sunday, 14 September 2008

School runs


Cwmpadarn School in Llanbadarn Fawr does some great things - it has done a particularly good job with the playground area and conservation garden. The latter in particular will no doubt help the children to appreciate nature, as well as being a wonderful feature for the school.

However, one problem the school faces - and it is not alone! - is that at school start and end times during term many of the children’s parents speed up and down the lane to drop their children off. This poses a danger to local residents and children who would like to walk to school, since there are no pavements, the road was not designed for lots of traffic, and the parents are invariably in a rush (and sometimes frustrated by the traffic going the other way). This potential danger also discourages some parents from letting their children walk to school, leading to a vicious circle that leads to further car use.



This could be prevented if the parents dropped their children off at the bottom of the lane or nearby, or walked their children to school. Not only would that decrease the amount of cars on the lane, making the road safer for everyone, but it would be good for the children and also help to make schemes that encourage children to walk to school successful. Once this became the standard it would mean there were always small groups of children walking together. Both Government policy (safe routes to school; concerns over child obesity) and the safety of residents (some elderly) and children would be furthered if this ever happened.

The headmaster responded to these issues, explaining why there had been no success in changing parents' behaviour. One has to sympathise with his difficult position, and the fact that the school has no direct control over the issue.

It is a definite critical mass problem - as the headmaster said: “parents [are] unwilling to drop off the children due to the potential hazards of traffic on Penygraig” - yet those same parents are then the ones creating the traffic problem! Likewise if their children walked, there would be no traffic problem.

Nonetheless there is another factor that isn’t being considered by the school. The headmaster said “it was felt that it should be the parents’ responsibility to ensure that the children arrive in school safely and not that of the school” - however it is not just parents and children affected. The rushing drivers, trying to drop off children in a hurry and becoming stressed by the constant traffic both ways, are a danger to residents too. The school cannot devolve all responsibility to the parents - it has to take some responsibility for the danger to residents created by the business of the school. There is an onus on all organisations to have some accountability for the impact of their business on the community they are a part of.

So the school's reply was not very optimistic for any improvement! In response, the school was sent the following suggestions:

1. It could be good if staff were to set an example - there are many school staff cars parked on the lane all day. If all school staff were encouraged not to drive in, then it would make getting the message across to parents a bit easier.

2. Transition Town Aberystwyth have a transport sub-group interested in these issues, and they were copied in on the issue.

3. It can’t be a rule of the school that parents should not drive up the road. However what the school can do is to repeat the message to parents (and children) each time there is an opportunity. E.g. every newsletter or communication to parents could have a standard paragraph encouraging parents not to drive up and down the lane, suggesting instead that they could drop the children off at the bottom, or in the layby on Primrose Hill to cross the stream, or walk the children, or cycle, or liftshare (to reduce traffic). The school could emphasise the benefits (health of the children, more pleasant environment and so on); and the negatives of driving (danger to walking children and residents, congestion). No-one can change the behaviour of others overnight, but if the school always included that message, it may start to fertilise over time, and at least lead to an improvement eventually. It may even tip the critical mass the other way one day, so that those driving would be frowned upon by other parents. With enough information and encouragement, a sensible message repeated often enough can lead to a change in attitudes over time.

4. In September is a ‘no car day’ (22nd). That could be an opportunity for the school to start working on suggestion 3. Details at http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/sustainable/awareness/itwmc/ (and http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/sustainable/schooltravel/ may also be of interest).

This issue has been covered since school traffic affects many communities, so is of wider interest than just this one school. Suggestion 3 above - if done consistently - may offer the best long-term improvement to the situation.

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