A couple have been warned they could be reported to social services unless they stop their young children cycling to school on their own.
Oliver and Gillian Schonrock let their daughter, eight, and son, five, cycle a mile unsupervised from their home in Dulwich, south London, to Alleyn’s junior school.
They believe cycling to school is good for their children’s independence and self-confidence. But other parents and the headmaster have said it is irresponsible.
The children’s route takes them along a pavement beside roads busy with traffic on the school run. At about the halfway mark they cross a relatively busy road where a lollipop lady is on duty. On the return journey they are supervised by one of the parents or their nanny.
Mrs Schonrock said she was “confident that the benefits to our children far outweigh the potential risk from `stranger danger’, road traffic accidents and other factors.”
Mark O’Donnell, headmaster of Alleyn’s junior school, could not be contacted yesterday. But he told a Sunday newspaper that the school was under an obligation to consider the children’s safety.
“If a school feels a child in their care is at risk, they have a legal responsibility to notify the local authority,” he said.
“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?”
What is most disturbing about this article? That children cycling and making their own way has become so rare as to become strange? Or, that the powers that be (those 'other parents and headmaster') think the children should stop what they are doing because they think it is dangerous, rather than addressing the source of the danger itself (which is, more than likely, these other parents driving their kids to school themselves)?
Won't someone just think of the children?! Quick, report this reckless mother to social services!
I don't know this school and I'm sure that the 8.30AM crush to get to class is quite hairy at times - sadly, these days, most schools in the UK are. But encouraging these kids to stop riding their bikes and to join the melee is not going to make the situation any better. And as their mother (and more kudos to her by the way) points out, the wee ones cycle on the pavement, cross the road under the care of a Lollipop lady ('cos that's what she's there for, right?) and that the benefits to her children far, far outweigh any potential negatives. The result? She might be reported to social services, whilst those who create the source of the danger are entirely overlooked.
If we are truly supposed to be fostering a change in cycling culture here in the UK, and we don't want our next generation to grow up to be obese, riddled with chronic diseases, car dependent and at serious risk from car danger (for that is what is at stake here) surely it would be better for the headmaster, instead of reporting the poor parents to social services, doing something proactive about the road he thinks is so dangerous outside his school? Proof, if ever it were needed, that whilst conditions may be getting better for cyclists in London the actual riding of a bike is still not seen as an everyday or ordinary activity. Promoting dangerous behaviour at the expense of a minority who are 'doing the right thing'; it's what Mikael from Copenhagenize would call 'ignoring the bull'.
There is of course a simple, effective solution to this problem; do as the Dutch do and ban cars from schools all together. We know that walking and cycling are better for kids than being driven, so why not? It would be a brave politician indeed who proposed such a move in the UK but I cannot think of a single reason why children in central London would need to attend school by car, and a 1000 reasons why they should not. If every school had good quality secure cycle parking, free cycle training for it's pupils and decent cycle paths leading to and from it, within just a few short years the situation on the ground would be very different. I've said here before why we need more bikes with baby on board. Rather than being extraordinary, Mr and Mrs Schonrock's children would be the norm, like in the video of cycling to school in Holland, from David Hembrow, below.
The problems associated with driving kids to and from school have been discussed in this country for very many years; indeed the situation has become so bad that parents who do send their kids to school by bike are clearly seen as irresponsible. We can keep 'ignoring the bull', or we can look to the countries that have success in changing the status quo and follow their lead... Which is it going to be? Which should it be? We can't keep talking and ignoring the sad status quo for ever...
**Blog update: 5th July 2010, 11.25AM**
The Daily Mail is also covering this story here, and includes a poll of it's readers as to whether they would allow their children to ride to school or not, sadly it's fairly evenly split down the middle, as are the comments from readers.
London's Mayor, Boris Johnson, has also jumped on the story with his column in the Sunday Telegraph: "They [Mr and Mrs Schonrock] 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... " Strangely, he then manages to turn the story into a promo piece about his efforts at City Hall to combat gang violence; not something I'm sure really effects privately educated 8 year olds in well to do suburban Dulwhich, but still...
**Blog update: 5th July 2010, 3.18PM**
School Travel Director, Paul Osborne, from the national sustainable transport charity 'Sustrans' writes:
“Parents have the right to decide how their children travel to school; they know the capabilities of their children and should be allowed to act accordingly. If others are unwilling to let their children walk or cycle, our streets clearly need to be made safer.
“The government is rightly concerned about the rise in obesity, traffic congestion, pollution and the stifled lifestyles of children; children should be encouraged to cycle to school, not prohibited.
“Half of all children want to cycle to school but just two per cent do. A third of children are now driven to school, many for journeys of less than one mile.
“Sustrans works with schools, pupils and parents to encourage children to walk and cycle, especially for journeys up to three miles, as the majority of children do in many northern European countries. To do this, all children need: safe routes to schools; to experience up to date on-road cycle and pedestrian training, and 20mph speed limits on all our residential roads. Our experience of doubling cycling in the schools that we work with shows that it is possible to encourage children to become more active, confident and independent.
“Sustrans wants every child and young person to have the knowledge, skills and confidence to establish the habit of travel by foot and bike early in life.”
..or in other word, it's possible to change for the better, so why not? We have nothing to loose but our 4x4s.