Archive | schools RSS feed for this section

Government gets in a muddle over school crossing patrols

9 Feb

Goverenment, both central and local, are in a big muddle over school crossing patrols. Central government claimed that local authorities would be able to make the required savings without loosing ‘front line services’ and Eric Pickles is still sticking to that line saying ‘It just goes to show that cutting front line jobs and hitting front line services isn’t inevitable– it doesn’t have to be an option at all.’

There are 93 school crossing patrol sites in Suffolk of which 62 are currently in operation and these are used by an estimated 8,000 children daily. Each crossing patrol officer is paid £6.38 per hour for 7.2 hours a week. The annual cost to the council is £174,000. Suffolk County council is about to decide the fate of these patrols and many if not all will go. So much for front line services not being hit.

In order to find out where these crossing patrols are sited I made a Freedom of Information request asking for the information. The response was patchy and much of the information which would be required for a proper assessment was missing. They promised to collect the missing information by the end of January but have not responded to my request for them to publicise it where I can download it when it is available. I have converted the patrol sites information that they did give me into a Google map from which one can easily jump to Streetview images like this one in Ipswich where the streetview car just happened to capture the crossing patrol officers as they were completing their shift.

Foxhall Road crossing – click for Google Streetview

St Edmundsbury District Council has voted to pay for the crossing patrols in their area, Ipswich Borough Council refuses to take on an services that SCC dumps At one school a head teacher was manning one crossing herself and a local estate agent has offered to sponsor another. Crossing patrol officers in Lowestoft have collected over 6,000 signatures against the cuts.

Will ‘Big Society’ help us us out with this one? Personally I am fully in support of people doing more for themselves and believe that information technology can help people do just that, however… not all jobs can or should be done by volunteers. There are big problems with used volunteers to do school crossing patrols as the authorities are now finding out to their cost.

Can the job be done by volunteers? Well, no, or possibly or.. not sure…..  According to a newspaper article crossing patrol officers needs to be employed by the council or the police authority as it is only these organisations that have the right to stop traffic.  The SCC web site is however less clear on the matter, saying “it may be possible for a school or another authority to take on a volunteer to perform the duties of a patrol. However, currently the Law is very strict on how a patrol must operate and a school or another authority would need to fulfil all the supervisory responsibilities”.

The above newspaper article also reports that the new conservative MP for Ipswich, Ben Gummer, has taken up the regulations with the Department of Transport and he is hoping to have a meeting with junior minister Mike Penning will allow the change.

The portfolio holder for transport for Suffolk says he hopes that the MP is successful. I can understand why, because in the mean time a crossing patrol officer has been injured in Lowestoft. The officer suffered cuts to the head and shock and a driver has been reported to the Crown Prosecution Service for careless driving. The crossing patrol, across the Yarmouth Road (A12) is one of those that will potentially go. A 6yo child was killed at the same crossing in 2007.

In summary it is a mess and both front line services and children will be at risk. A huge amounts of time is being spent trying to invent a new operational and management model against looming cuts.

Do we really want the school heads (who are paid a lot more than £6.38 per hour) operating the patrol or worrying if the supervision is adequate. Who will deal with the situation when a volunteer crossing patrol officer isn’t able to to come in to work? Will it up to the school to sort out a replacement or the estate agency who sponsor’s the patrol or another volunteer? So much for ‘no loss of front line services’.

Delivery van driver reverses over cyclist outside secondary school

26 Jan

A delivery van driver reversed over a teenage cyclist outside secondary school in Shrewsbury at 4:15pm on Monday 23 Jan 2011. The driver was unaware of what was happening until the girl banged on the van who was fortunate not to have fallen under the wheels. The police are trying to trace the driver who failed to report the incident as is required after an injury accident.

There is no evidence in the report that there were any restrictions on parking at the location, but it does emphasis the dangers created by vehicles backing into parking places in the vicinity of schools at busy times.

‘Spy cars’ to catch school run parents

14 Jan

Several councils in the West Midlands are may join a scheme which uses special  vehicles fixed with number-plate reading equipment to identify vehicle parking dangerously or illegally outside schools at pick-up time. Sandwell Council intends to lease a vehicle equipped with video cameras and automatic number plate technology. Wolverhampton City Council said the authority is prepared to look at all options for controlling illegal and inconsiderate parking including looking into the spy car scheme to assess its viability. Needless to say the Taxpayers’ Alliance didn’t like it, saying that it was an “elaborate scheme’ which may not solve the problem and would probably turn out to be a cash cow for the council”. Personally I think this, together with many other schemes across the country will indeed have a big effect.

Bedford is running a similar scheme. The campaign group Big Brother Watch seemed to be more concerned about mum’s getting wet and how unreasonable it was to expect parents to walk to school in the rain. They told The Mirror who ran the story “This camera will be used to target mums dropping off their kids on a rainy day”! As far as I knew, kids like the rain.

Mud Puddle Sam – Photo by PittCaleb

And then Southend Council are also considering using a parking enforcement car in Basildon following a successful trial in Southend. A spokesman said: “No method of parking enforcement is popular and I understand people are going to be upset if our car catches them out… However, we get a lot of complaints from residents saying we are not cracking down enough on irresponsible drivers and this will help improve the situation… Residents want us to use it for things which are traditionally difficult to enforce, like stopping parking on grass verges or outside schools.”

Notice that it is called a ‘parking enforcement car’ by those who are proposing it and as a ‘spy car’ that will ‘catch’ people by those who don’t or who need to sell newspapers! Do remember that the majority of primary age children walk to school and that it is only a minority of parents who do drive who park illegally and dangerously outside the school. In other words the parking issues are being caused by a small minority of parents to the detriment of everyone else.

‘Ziggy and Zaggy’ scheme

14 Jan

Pupils have been working with neighbourhood police officers in a scheme run by Staffordshire Police and Stoke-on-Trent City Council to hand out warning cards to thoughtless motorists who block footpaths, zig zag yellow lines, block driveways or park opposite or within 10 metres of a junction.

The police explained that the area around the school was dangerous at peak school times and that parents were asking them to try to sort the problem out. Headteacher Dawn Farmer said: “I’m thrilled… in the morning, cars block the whole street and refuse to move, forcing people to reverse down the whole street.. It had got to the point where so many parents were complaining, we had to do something.” One of the 12 year six volunteers explained ‘I just wanted to do something to tell grown-ups off and I thought it would be fun. I’ve already got two people this morning and two this afternoon!”

Handing out warning cards in Staffordshire. Copyright image

How many people do drive their kids to school?

10 Jan

The government has just published a set of indicators indicating how children got to school across the country last year broken down into primary and secondary age groups. A graph based on the percentage of children walking, cycling or taking public transport to primary and secondary schools organised with the authority with the lowest rate on the left and the highest on the right comes out like this. The red line if for primary age children and the brown line for secondary.

Getting to school 2009-2010 by Authority

It shows that even in the authorities with the lowest rates for primary schools there are nearly 50% of children walking/cycling etc and that in the highest it is up to about 90%. The average across the country is about 63% for primary and 70% for secondary.

The papers claimed that the statistics showed that the schools with the highest driving rates were the rich and rural ones and the ones with the lowest were urban and not so rich. It isn’t actually that clear – here are the only ones where more than 50% of children are being driven: Herefordshire, Windsor and Maidenhead, Solihull, Cornwall, Surrey, St. Helens and Sefton.

The London borough feature prominently in the list of places with the lowest driving rate with Portsmouth being the most interesting inclusion – Portsmouth also has been pioneering area-wide 20mph speed limits with very encouraging results. Here are the ones with over 80% walking etc starting with the highest: City of London, Islington, Camden, Westminster, Isles of Scilly, Newham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lambeth, Kensington and Chelsea, Hackney, Portsmouth.

The slight anomalies for the rates for secondary schools to the right of the graph are probably data errors. The blip down to 40% is for Brighton and Hove and the one to 50% is for Ealing.

My conclusion is that it is a minority of parent who are causing all this trouble and one should bear in mind that many of the ones who do drive will park their vehicles some way from the school gates and walk the final section. I suspect that there is a lot of self selection of drivers going on which results and that ‘die hard drivers’ and ‘complacent car addicts’ are well represented outside the school gates.

Skirmishes on the front line

8 Jan

Yesterday afternoon I used a camera-phone to record some examples of dangerous and illegal driving outside a local primary local school. These included a car arriving at speed and stopping with two wheels on the pavement in the ‘school zone’ and also a driver reversing into a parking spot by yellow lines opposite the school zone. Before I was able to capture more examples of dubious parking the second driver drove up, stopped his car in the middle of the road and then got out and pushed me backwards and asked me if I was a pervert! As in happened, there were two off-duty police officers collecting children from school and I ended up having a useful discussion with these policemen and the assistant head of the school about this incident and wider issues.

The Policemen were unambiguously supportive of the campaign aims but suggested that the approach taken wasn’t ideal. Given my recent experience and regular reports of violence outside schools elsewhere I had to agree with them! Indeed the assistant head said that there had already been four confrontations outside the school between parents. He said that he wanted to talk with the head about what would be appropriate way of proceeding.

The reason for this post however is not to tell that story, but to highlight a pattern. Two previous drivers, both driving black Range Rovers as it happens, had accused me of being a ‘nonce’, ie a pervert. Here is one of one of them parked in the middle of the carriageway in a pedestrian-only zone waiting for someone to return. He had decided that I had taken a picture of a small child who he assured me was buried somewhere inside the huge vehicle hidden behind the smoked glass!

The other occasion was when I had spotted another Range Rover, this time one which was parked on the pavement outside a local shop on double yellow line. I said nothing but then found the vehicle kerb-crawling me as I walked on. The driver asked me what I had been looking at, and then asked if I was some sort of pervert. I found this odd given that he was the one behaving unusually and threateningly but it wasn’t really about logic but about power.

Finally, I  was cycling on one of the new London ‘Cycle Superhighways’ near the Oval and came across this incident. Why are vehicles as large as the one on the left allowed on our city streets at all? This Audi Q7 weighs 2.2 tonnes, has a minimum engine size of 4.2 litres and scores 2 only out of four for pedestrian safety. Clearly smaller cars don’t come off very well in an collision either. Incidentally the £43,000 Range Rover scored a ‘dire’ 1 out of 4 for pedestrian safety in 2002. Here are the official results which include the comment ‘Just three sites out of 18 tested on the vehicle’s front gave any protection. This is dire, and Land Rover needs to improve matters’.

A 2.2 tonne 4-6 litre SUV in serious crash in London

My conclusion from the  above is that the type of motorist who ignores all the social conventions and regulations around what sort of vehicle to drive and how and where to park will also be a self-selected group of ‘Motorists’ (as in die-hard capital ‘M’ Motorists) who are likely to behave unpredictably and dangerously when challenged. Any campaign of this sort needs to be aware of that.

As for the pervert claim, I see that as just one of a number of excuses and distractions by drivers for not address the issue at hand. For sure society needs to be vigilant in relation to child abuse but not at the expense of the huge risk to the safety and freedom of children from the drivers who behave illegally, carelessly or recklessly outside schools every day. That being said the use of camera-phones outside schools, particularly video-recording is unwise in the current climate even though it is the only way to gather credible evidence of driving on the footway or of careless driving.

Parents stone traffic wardens outside Brentwood schools

7 Jan

Its getting messy in Brentwood. Traffic wardens have suffered a string of physical and verbal assaults, they have also been pushed, tickets have been  snatched and on one delightful day they were stoned by irate parents! One  assailant got a one-year custodial sentence for the assault on a warden. The director of environmental services at Brentwood Council said “We normally send a pair of wardens and on a number of occasions they have been accompanied by PCSOs or police because of the reaction they get”. All these incidents have happened on Sawyers Hall Lane in Brentwood, Essex which is a dead-end road with five schools along it.

Road jammed on Sawyers Hall Lane

Traffic backs up in the morning and evening as parents try and collect their offspring outside the school gates, often blocking local driveways. One parent explains: “The situation is totally ridiculous. I have to get here for 2.15pm if I want a space”. She said that she had had paint thrown over her car and a large sticker warning her not to park there super-glued to her windscreen. A local resident said the situation was horrendous and that they “were suffering terribly” and that was impossible to get out at some times of day. One several occasions cars had been driven over local residents’ front garden.

The above report was from 2009, although things are hardly better by February 2010 with parents claiming that they are ‘forced’ to park in dangerous places outside the school. One parent said “I didn’t realise I wasn’t supposed to park here, the yellow lines are a bit faded.” Another parent said who was parked half on the double yellow lines claimed it did not matter because the traffic wardens no longer visited.

Then in July 2010 parents complained that wardens were using “sneaky” tactics because they issued tickets on a sports day on a Sunday complaining that parking enforcement was rarely carried out during busy school picking-up and dropping-off times. A parent said “How mean to deliberately target a family day, where kids, mums, dads and grandparents, were coming together for a sporting event – rather than let their kids roam the streets or sit in front of the computer – just to make money.” The school helpfully issued a warning on the public address system saying “traffic wardens are operating in Sawyers Hall Lane and are ticketing your vehicles”.

Well… I guess it is hardly surprising if the traffic wardens don’t visit at the busy times these days given what happened to them when they did. This sort of conflict is unfortunately only going to happen more often given the relentless rise in vehicle numbers and the current governments claim that they will ‘end the war on the motorist‘.