A 65 year old crossing patrol man has resigned from Plymouth City Council employment because he was facing suspension. What terrible thing had he done? Molested a child? Caused a traffic accident? Stolen from his charges?
No, it was nothing like that. On the contrary Bob Slade got on so well with the children he shepherded across the road that he and they had got into the friendly habit of high-fiving each other. In practice this simply meant that the children cheerfully patted the hand which Mr Slade was holding out to stop the traffic.
But now he’s out of a job. And Manadon Vale Primary School has no lollipop man or woman to see the children across the road although the appointment of a replacement is in hand.
Plymouth City Council argues that Mr Slade was not giving his full attention to the job – although he has done it without an accident for four years – and that a crossing patrol’s free hand must be fully extended as a clear signal to traffic.
Now of course there must be two sides to this matter. I know only what the Plymouth Herald has reported because parents who think the council’s attitude to Mr Slade is absurd have gone crossly to the local press. There are, obviously, other parents or members of the public, who thought that Mr Slade was behaving irresponsibly and reported him.
However, it does seem pretty draconian to hound a decent man (crossing patrols are CRB checked just as teachers and teaching assistants are) for establishing a rapport with the children he helps to look after.
A crossing patrol with whom a child interacts every day becomes a benign, trusted authority figure in his or her life. The patrol knows the children and they know him or her, often by name. Some children have few such people in their everyday experience apart from in school. Many families and neighbourhoods are regrettably dysfunctional.
Anyone who can help to rectify the balance, even just for a few minutes a day, is a real bonus which is why the neighbourhood policeman known to all is such a loss. Some primary school children – watch them outside almost any schools – feel really quite affectionate towards the crossing patrol who is often an older, quasi-grandparental figure. A second part-time career with a lollipop supplements many a meagre pension.
Obviously the lollipop man or woman’s most important function is to get the children to the other side of the road safely. But if he or she can also provide a bit of warmth and human interest then it should be encouraged not punished.