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East Lothian Council has established a 300-metre exclusion zone for cars around two primary schools in Haddington during school-run hours.
The motoring lobby’s reaction has been predictable.  AA president Edmund King said: “Sometimes parents need their cars to go on to work after dropping their children off.”
The positive aspect is that the pressure has come from parents themselves backed by local councillors.  The parental view is that the volume of parking around the schools creates a danger to children who are not driven to school.
Time will tell how the aggrieved parents who hitherto happily acted as children’s chauffeurs will react.  Countless cars parked close to primary schools are signs of our times.  The roads adjacent to my local primary, with a roll of just over 400, to which no child need travel further than a mile (and on roads with well managed crossings) are regularly packed with 60 to 70 cars at the end of the school day and even at lunch time.  This is about more than parents wedded to their cars.
Part of the issue is undoubtedly parents whose work commitments may add to their earning capacity but makes them time-poor.  The volume of parking certainly increases in schools serving more affluent areas.  We also live in an age where parents are committed to a highly organised life-style, for themselves and their off-spring, increasingly risk-averse and fearful for children’s safety. Consequently children are increasingly denied the experiences once considered central to growing up.
Driving children to school may insulate them from road accidents although, ironically and as the good parents of Haddington have observed, increases the dangers for children not so driven.  Yet it was precisely by walking to school that children learn, experientially, to walk safely and handle road-crossing and traffic.
Walking to and from school was also where social relationship lessons were learned.  The older children shepherded the younger ones and developed a sense of communal responsibility.  It was part of growing up.  And if the odd fight or dispute or, for the teenagers, first amorous advances, also arose on these journeys, these too were learning experiences, not parts of childhood to be avoided.
There are other parallels such as the refusal of many parents to allow their children to play outside in the evenings, the almost instinctive defence of their own children mounted by many parents, irrespective of their children’s behaviour or the modern phenomenon of children who, if allowed out on bikes at all, are instructed to cycle on the pavements.  These are all, I venture to suggest, manifestations of a world where individuals have retreated into families and who, obsessively and irrationally, fear the uncertain, external world.
What, I wonder, does this imply for schools?  It means that relationships, which should always be at the centre of learning and of schools, take even greater priority.  It means that playgrounds, interval and lunch-time are as much part of the educational experience as class time but that in these contexts adults need to take a back seat except in dire emergencies.  It means that sport, outdoor education and  physical activity are even more urgent, both to compensate for the lack of healthy walking and as places where risk and physical adventure can be experienced and where collective activity and teamwork can develop as an antidote to obsessive individualism.
Yet these are all issues in respect of which schools have but a limited capacity to intervene.  As a society we need to rethink the whole process of child-rearing and the disastrous directions it has taken in recent years.

The above article was first published in Holyrood Magazine on 20 May 2013:

One Comment

  • Angela Bell says:

    I enjoyed reading your article, Alec, and find myself thinking about the ‘hovering’ often undertaken by teachers in schools’ social areas – why don’t we sit down for ten minutes?

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