Something needs to be done about ‘the school run’.
I doubt that there are many who would dispute this. Parents who do not drive to school will tell you that they face dangerous driving, inconsiderate parking and cars failing to stop at crossings. Parents who do drive will tell you what a nightmare it is to find anywhere to park. Anyone who lives near a school will tell you about driveways and pavements being blocked. People who aren’t parents will tell you how much quieter the roads are when the schools are on holidays.
But what about the schools? What is their stance on this?
School management will send out letters and emails asking parents to drive and park considerately. Teachers will teach road safety to their classes. Schools will embrace bikeability and all the latest schemes to promote active travel.
But nothing changes. The roads around schools at school run times are still often hostile, confrontational and dangerous places.
So why are the schools not doing more? Why are the schools not tackling this?
Because they cannot.
When the school run madness is in full swing, the teachers are in their classrooms (or in the toilet, because it is a long time until break). The management are in their offices or the classrooms. The school administration staff are in the office. The janitor might be outside but the traffic is not in the playground, so they are still at a distance.
And this is exactly where all those people should be. It is exactly where they need to be.
They are not out in the streets surrounding the school.
There are two implications to this:
- There is nothing that school staff can do to manage the traffic around their schools.
- Often the staff are not even aware of the extent of the problem around their schools.
As a parent I have been working with my local primary school to promote active travel. Doing so really brought home point 2 to me. I wrote a survey for parents including a question which asked respondents to tick the street names which they use for parking. I asked the school management if they felt that there were any other streets which I should include. The answer was along the lines of “I really don’t know”. It’s obvious really that they wouldn’t know. They are not part of the school run. They are simply not there.
I have always taught at schools at some distance from where I live. If I was asked about the streets used for school run parking my answer would be the same as that from my local school’s management team. I wouldn’t know where parents park. I wouldn’t know how difficult it is to park. I wouldn’t know how safe it was to walk, scoot or cycle to the school. I probably couldn’t name all the streets around the school. I am in the classroom at these times of day.
Again at my local primary school, we were fortunate enough to get funding from Sustrans to improve the bike and scooter storage at the school. Again, I was surprised by how little the school staff knew about how congested the bike parking was. Again, I should not have been surprised. When children park their bikes and scooters at the school, the teachers are inside or bringing in their lines, they are not loitering around the bike parking areas. By the time the teachers come out of the school, the children and their bikes and scooters are long gone. Even if teachers cycle to school themselves, they are usually greeted by empty cycle storage and when they leave the storage is again empty apart from their own bikes.
Following on from point 1 that there is nothing schools can do to manage the traffic around their schools is another point, sometimes overlooked by those contacting the school about the difficulties they face.
It is not a teacher’s job to manage traffic.
Teachers are in school to teach and teaching is a full time job with plenty of overtime as it is.
So Why Should School run issues Even Affect Schools?
School staff are not a part of the school run problems. Teachers are not able to be around when these issues are occurring. Teachers have enough on their plates anyway without trying to teach courtesy to parents. So surely school travel is not the schools’ problem?
Except that it is.
School travel remains a problem for schools and school staff for a number of reasons:
- Because it is the school staff who receive the letters, emails and phone calls complaining about school travel and this takes up valuable time.
- Because it is the school who are perceived to be the source of the problem – the children are going to and from the school so surely it is the school which is causing the problem. This certainly appears to be the view of local residents.
- Because research has shown that children who travel actively to school are better able to concentrate and learn.
- Because there are teachers out there who know of children who have been injured or killed on the way to school and no teacher wants that for the children they care about.
So, Whose Job Is It Anyway?
Something needs to be done and it cannot be the teachers and the schools alone which solve the problem. That does not mean that there is not a role for the schools; there is a huge role for the schools. But who should lead this change?
It is the parents whose children are travelling to school and back every day. Even if a parent never undertakes the school run themselves, they want their child to arrive and leave safely.
Parents have a right to expect that their child will travel to school and back safely. But with rights come responsibilities. Parents have a responsibility to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.
I believe that real change in school travel will come about when the school staff and the parents work together. This does not mean that all the parents must work with the school on this. It only needs to take one parent, one ‘Travel Champion’ and a school staff that are enthusiastic to set change in motion.
The first step in tackling travel to school is to write a School Travel Plan. This must involve the school and the teachers because much of the work in the School Travel Plan should be produced by the children. A message promoting change is much more powerful when it comes from a motivated and well-informed child than when it is when it comes from an adult. There are resources available to create a School Travel Plan and to promote active travel and the beauty of this is that these activities can also achieve curriculum outcomes in numerous areas.
- Surveys and mapping are numeracy.
- Creating persuasive materials is literacy and design.
- Researching the local area is social studies.
- Learning about the effects of active travel on our bodies is science.
- Learning about air pollution is science.
- Learning about materials to keep warm and dry when walking in bad weather is design and technology.
Developing active travel is not ‘one more thing’ for schools to find time for, it is core teaching and learning.
The role of a parent or small group of parents as ‘Travel Champions’ is to collate this information and make it relevant to all the parents in the school. To take the work of the children across the school and to create the actual School Travel Plan. Even more importantly, a Travel Champion’s role is to drive forward the actions which come from the School Travel Plan. This is a huge amount of work and school staff often simply do not have the time to lead on it.
I believe that there is a phenomenal potential for a positive impact to be made when schools and parents work together. When parents assert their rights by acting on their responsibilities.