School days are the happiest days of your life apparently.
I remember being at First School when we were given cycling proficiency training. Some fire hose was laid out on the playground to recreate a T Junction and we learned how to cycle on the road. I did so well I received a copy of the Highway Code as a prize. That was in 1979.
In 1988 I decided to cycle to my Secondary School. Taking the school bus on its long circuitous route to get to the village where I lived was a soul destroying experience. Above all I wanted the freedom to be with friends after school. The bicycle gave me that freedom. As I hadn’t cycled any distance for a while the weight had piled on a bit but I saved hard bought a Muddy Fox Courier and started to cycle the 7 miles to school. The weight fell off me and as I grew upwards and inwards my confidence and self belief grew which I badly needed as an adolescent. In 1989 I participated in the Grundig Mountain Bike World Challenge achieving a World ranking at the age of 16. That year, I also cycled 100 miles in a day with two friends raising funds for Great Ormond Street Hospital. It was fun, but it hurt!
Let’s fast forward now to 2010. A London couple who let their children cycle to school by themselves have been warned they could be reported to social services unless they supervise the journey.
According to Road.cc, ‘today’s Daily Mail highlights the case of Oliver and Gillian Schonrock, who let their five year-old son and eight year-old daughter cycle the one-mile trip to school unaccompanied. They say it helps to teach the kids independence, self-confidence and responsibility.
But other parents and teachers at Alleyn’s Junior School in Dulwich are said to think the practice is irresponsible and dangerous. Head teacher Mark O’Donnell has told the Schonrocks that the school is obliged to consider the children’s safety and has a legal responsibility to refer the case to Southwark Council’s Children’s Services department if they fear the kids are being put at risk.
The children cycle on the pavement from their home in west Dulwich to the school. Their route takes them alongside roads that become busy with traffic during the school run. At the halfway point they cross a road where there is a lollipop lady on duty.
Mark O’Donnell said: “If a school feels a child in their care is at risk, they have a legal responsibility to notify the local authority. Is an eight year old responsible enough to come to school with a five year old and take responsibility when it comes to crossing busy roads? Or what would happen if the five year old has a tantrum?”
The Schonrocks say rules on child protection are to blame for the predicament they find themselves in. Mrs Schonrock, who as a girl took the bus to school from the age of four with her six year-old sister, said: “The question is do the government have the right to put an obligation on schools to not allow any level of risk whatsoever?”
London Mayor Boris Johnson today said the Schonrock’s should be applauded for showing faith in their children. In a column in the Daily Telegraph he said: “They have taken the sword of common sense to the great bloated encephalopathic sacred cow of elf and safety, and for this effrontery they are, of course, being persecuted by the authorities (who are now probably consulting a dictionary to see what encephalopathic means).
“If Mr and Mrs Schonrock have carefully assessed the route and considered the advantages and disadvantages, then they should overwhelmingly be given the benefit of the doubt and the freedom to make up their own minds.”
Although schools are not responsible for children on their journey to school, guidance from the Department for Children, Schools and Families says if a school “believes or suspects that a child may be suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm” then it must refer the case to social services.
Catherine McDonald, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services at Southwark Council, told the Mail: “As this is an independent school, it is for them to decide how they arrange transport to school with the parents of their pupils.
“However, if an independent school does contact us, we’d give them the same advice as we do to our own schools, that they should develop a school travel plan with parents and children so they can get to school safely and in a way that promotes healthy living and is good for the environment. This would include both cycling and walking.”
Cherry Allan, CTC Campaigns Information Co-ordinator told road.cc: “CTC is very disappointed to hear that Oliver and Gillian Schonrock’s decision to let their children cycle to school on their own has been described as “irresponsible”. All children should have the right to cycle to school: it allows them to travel quickly and independently through their local areas, providing not just autonomy, but a daily sense of achievement. To describe the Schronrock’s decision as irresponsible sends out a message that roads are for adults only, and undermines the health benefits of cycling to children – such as greater cardiovascular fitness and reduced levels of obesity – which far outweigh the risks.’
So there you have it. For what it’s worth I believe it is our duty to create safer streets for children to cycle in whether it’s through 20mph limits, segregated (and well designed for a change) cycle paths or redesigned streetscapes that are pleasant for the residents, as opposed to the rat runners. If all else fails, I’d simply stop all motor traffic between 8- 9am and 3-4pm so children can cycle or walk between school and home unhindered (and adults could improve their lives too). Then just watch the obesity levels plummet and the happiness levels soar.
Basically, adults need to bloody well grow up. At least the children are having a go.
I also think that encephalopathic means a disease of the brain. I love Boris Johnson!