Gazette Article 9: “Too few children willing or able to walk to lessons”

Published in the Brentwood Gazette – 29th May 2013

Last week Essex County Council held their annual “Walk To School Week” and all local schools encouraged their pupils to journey on foot, particularly if they normally don’t. You would not have known it in Sawyers Hall Lane.

The Gazette’s Safety at Schools campaign rightly highlights speeding, poor driving and inconsiderate parking outside our schools and outside of school run time a 20mph limit would be welcome. During it, the weight of traffic keeps traffic down to a crawl.

Despite that, during the previous week, as the school run built up there was an accident between two cars at the junction with Highland Avenue with one car ending up on the pavement.

In seven years of delivering children to two of the five schools in Sawyers Hall Lane I have never seen any improvement in the congestion there.

The only way to safely negotiate the road is with the help of the excellent long standing lollipop lady Gill and her job is not helped by those parking on the double yellow lines leading up to the crossing point.

I can assure Sawyers Hall Lane residents that head teachers issue regular appeals for greater consideration and for drivers to obey the parking restrictions. Parents have no excuse for not knowing the inconvenience that can be caused if this advice is not taken.

Knowing what the situation has been like I was very surprised when the proposers of Becket Keys Free School claimed that their school should take precedent over vocational alternatives to Sawyers Hall College as it would cause less traffic. They even went as far as to claim that “all of its students” would be “able to walk or cycle to school”.

Plenty of visitors to Sawyers Hall Lane are “able” to walk now but too many choose not to.

As the school subsequently confirmed that their initial cohort of 123 students were drawn from “over 20 schools” their argument was rather undermined, of course by then it was too late.

But that statement also gives us a clue as to why congestion is as bad as it is in the road.

I believe that once children reach secondary age they should be getting to school under their own steam, school choice is then not so important in congestion terms, but that is rarely possible for primary age pupils.

Catchment is not the primary admission criteria for any of the schools in Sawyers Hall Lane. As such people living on the other side of Brentwood actually can be more likely to gain a place than those living three streets away such as me and my neighbours.

As less than 7% of the population identified themselves as regular church goers in the last Census, it seems odd that much out of catchment movement would occur on this basis, but perhaps Brentwood bucks the national trend.

It may be that some of our schools are considered “better” than others but Ofsted reports for our primaries don’t differ greatly. Holly Trees Primary is just as highly rated as St Thomas’s Junior for example.

No matter what the reason, some educationalists have been concerned about the long term effect of this trend on the ability of all schools to maintain and improve standards.

In a recent presentation, Mick Waters, the highly regarded former director at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, spoke about the “Future of Schooling”. Arguing that collaboration, not competition, is the key to high quality education that benefits the many, he also raised the idea of a levy on pupils that don’t use their local school to be directed to that school.

I have no idea how that would work but it may well be good for educational standards. It could also benefit the environment.

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