Encouraging pupils to walk or cycle to school can be an uphill battle. It is not made any easier by parents who insist on driving their children to the door.
Most will park legally. But some will defy the double-yellow or zig-zag lines and station their cars directly outside the school gates.
This seriously compromises health and safety, warns Paul Osborne, director of school travel for Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity. "Traffic makes it extremely hazardous for children trying to make their way to and from class."
Two pupils were knocked over by cars in a single week in Bedford earlier this year, prompting the council to create plans to install cameras that will catch and fine errant drivers.
"If people fail to comply with traffic law, I don't really see an alternative," Mr Osborne adds. "Children's safety should be absolutely paramount."
But the school itself can do a limited amount. "Schools are legally responsible only for traffic on their own site, which means that if there is a problem outside the school they need to work with their local authority to find a solution," says Caroline Cochrane, a senior researcher at The Key, an information and guidance service for headteachers.
Success will hinge on clear communication. Parents should first be informed where they can and cannot park. Clarifying why restrictions are in place should help make the point.
If a letter home is ineffective, parents may need further education about the dangers of parking in restricted zones and the benefits of walking and cycling. This could involve workshops for parents, although the worst offenders are likely be the last to attend.
At this point, it may be necessary to involve the council. "The local authority can contribute by reviewing traffic management in the area and enforcing any restrictions it sees fit," Ms Cochrane says.
This could involve installing CCTV, with subsequent fines or even court cases for offenders. Cameras may raise a few hackles, admits Mr Osborne, but they are an effective way of enforcing the law.
Schools alone may be powerless to dictate what goes on outside their grounds, but can still hope to bring influence to bear. School travel plans or road safety policies should lay out existing problems and possible solutions. This may include reminders in the school newsletter or on the website.
Staff wanting to bolster their low-carbon strategy also have a number of government schemes to call on. The Travelling to School initiative aims to promote walking, cycling and public transport for journeys to school.
And by 2020, the Government wants all schools to be models of sustainable travel. The National Framework for Sustainable Schools aims to help schools reach this goal, partly through better management of travel and traffic.
As for councils, the Education and Inspections Act 2006 states that local authorities have a duty to promote sustainable school travel and bring about improvements to existing infrastructure. It should all add up to smoother and safer journeys to school.
WHAT SCHOOLS CAN DO
- Clarify where parents can and cannot park in a letter home.
- Educate parents. Encourage walking, cycling or driving just part of the route.
- Join forces with the council. It can impose deterrents beyond the school gates.
- Implement a school travel plan to improve safety and reduce car use.