14 September 2011
Just why do kids not seem able to walk to and from school on their own any more?
Took two dogs and a cat to the vet yesterday for their latest booster injections and check-ups, and it was a 3.10pm appointment. Now, the closest vet's surgery is on a side street in the small town where I grew up (but no longer live) and about three doors away from the pedestrian entrance to the primary school I attended between 1978 and 1984.
The road is residential, narrow and no-through, so it's accessible only from one direction. Cars that belong to residents already line the street as one side is terraced housing with no garages or driveways. The vet's place has a car park which is a bit of a tight squeeze but straightforward enough.
So, out I drive from the vets at about 3.25pm with two grumpy Basset hounds in the boot and a seething cat in a box, and the sight that greeted me was horrendous. It was like trying to exit the main car park at a football stadium five minutes after the final whistle. Cars lined both sides of the street; those shuffling up the road were entirely invisible to drivers like me trying to edge out and go in the other direction. People were doing seven-point turns to make progress or just get out of someone's way. I dread to think what the residents make of it.
And all because the kids needed picking up.
Now, as I understand it, primary schools are exempt from the "choice" element that is attached to secondary education and therefore every child, of all abilities, has an automatic right to a place at their local primary school until they are 11. This means that almost all of these kids rushing out to meet their parents yesterday would have lived within walking distance of the school.
I don't wish to be all "fourth Yorkshireman" about it, but when I attended that very school I went with my mum until my seventh birthday and then walked there and back alone while she went back to working part-time. I had the same pelican crossing to use across the busy main road and the same streets and lanes to gallop down with my mates. I have a good memory of school, and I genuinely can't think of any pupil around my era who got a lift in with mum or dad in a morning or a ride home afterwards, even those who had parents working at the school. There were some kids who were a stupid distance away towards Hull, right on the East Riding boundary, but they used to get a service bus each way.
If the kids all live within walking distance of the school then that obviously means the parents do too. So why not still pick them up but do so on foot? The exercise would be nice, it gives the kids longer to tell their mum and/or dad what they got up to that day and it doesn't completely snarl up an innocent residential street and annoy veterinary customers. Like me. I don't think the crime rate (especially in sleepy East Yorkshire villages and towns) is any worse now than it was in 1980 and so I can only assume that the parents who choose to take their kids to and from this school in their cars are a combination of lazy, paranoid and disorganised.