Education Opinion: Driven to distraction

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The Independent Online
Twice a day I set off on what should be a pleasant stroll along leafy lanes to our Devon village school. Twice a day I return home absolutely fuming.

Why? While I and a few other parents take their kids to school on foot, most roll up in a motley selection of Volvos, Audis and Peugeots. They clog up the lanes that lead to the school. They collect around the entrance, making the playground exit so hazardous that the school bus has to pull up right outside to ensure the children's safety. Some even speed round blind corners without considering who might be in their path.

Not that my area is unusual. Statistics show that less than 6 per cent of children now walk to school compared to 80 per cent some 20 years ago. In a school like ours with 140 pupils, that means just eight walk on a regular basis.

Every day I go round the same mental ruts trying to get to grips with what drives the drivers. Yes, I know there's a lot more traffic on the roads and walking is more hazardous than it used to be. Yes, I know we've all got such busy schedules nowadays, what with work and ferrying the kids from activity to the next. Yes, I know many people, especially in rural areas, live some distance away.

But I also know people who live just yards from the school who insist on driving. I know that the school's repeated requests to park by the village hall to relieve congestion are consistently ignored. I know almost no one who bothers to organise a lift share if walking is not feasible. In the end it's difficult not to draw a simple conclusion - most parents would rather put short-term convenience before the long-term well-being of their children.

A committed minority have, and are, trying to get things changed with repeated requests to the head, governors and PTA to help deal with problems of congestion and speeding. But the school, which prides itself on promoting a healthy lifestyle among its pupils, tells us there is simply nothing it can do. Parents are a law unto themselves.

And what an odd set of priorities they have. A recent epidemic of headlice sent waves of near hysteria through the playground, letters were issued, posters erected, infected children peremptorily dispatched home for treatment with liberal doses of insecticide. What a shame we don't kick up such a fuss about the heart disease, posture and weight problems that are the inevitable legacy for our under-exercised children. Give me headlice any day.

So before you reach for your car-keys, think very hard. You are denying yourself and your child a valuable opportunity to keep fit. You are contributing to the pollution that is already provoking asthma in our children, and which may one day deny them a future altogether if global warming really hots up. You are consuming more of the world's dwindling supply of fossil fuels. You are clogging up the roads and adding to the pressure for new road networks. You are spending a small fortune on petrol and wear and tear on your car. You are adding to the traffic jams that have become the prominent feature outside our schools. You are making life much less pleasant and more dangerous for those who do walk. And you are setting a very bad example to your children.

So in Walk to School Week stop making excuses and get on your feet - it's a few small steps for you, but a giant leap for sedentary mankind. And as you walk, remember these words: if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.