Dear Ted

12th November 2004 at 00:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Ted says

Some parents may have little choice about how their children travel to school, and there will usually be a problem in torrential rain, but that does not mean you should surrender. You can invite parents and children to make suggestions, as they should not be sitting around waiting for the head and teachers to dream up something clever.

It is part of the policy of many healthy schools nowadays that children walk to school wherever possible. Some parents with part-time jobs club together, taking it in turns to shepherd groups of children along the route on their days off. Indeed, the crocodile of walkers, like a human bus, following a carefully mapped route, is a familiar sight in many places. It can also be good fun and help social development.

Another possibility, if people really must use their car, is to introduce a sharing scheme. While some parents do this anyway, others may need help finding families along the same route. If children join in the planning it is an interesting mathematical challenge for them: finding the shortest routes, looking at networks of where people live in relation to school and to each other, working out the cost in petrol over a year of separate or combined journeys. They can also discuss the health and environmental issues.

Ask the local authority to improve public transport, or see if you can find a few alternative dropping off places nearby. But make sure you don't merely cause a problem for someone else, or create a fresh safety hazard.

As a last resort, you can always dress up as a traffic warden and ticket everybody.

You say

Work with the drivers

There are no quick-fix solutions. Even the most rational and considerate parent becomes someone rather different when the car is involved.

Your objective is to have fewer cars arriving at the same time. This means staggering arrivals andor fewer cars. Fewer cars mean alternative transport must be considered: public transport or good old-fashioned walking or cycling. These may be tried only to be rejected later, leaving you back at square one.

There is another alternative. Start from the assumption that people want to transport their children in cars. But do the cars have to be their own? Is it worth exploring a car-sharing arrangement?

If so, could the school act as some sort of broker? This is a complicated undertaking and would be very resource-hungry at first, but there may be a role for the PTA. If it could be made to work, with parents sharing responsibility for the school run, it could crack the problem of congestion. And it might just help save the planet.

Roddy Pow, Ealing

Take it one step at a time

Aim for evolution rather than revolution. We introduced a drop-off zone outside our school. Parents who drive now leave their children with volunteer parent escorts, who walk the children into school safely, removing the need for dozens of cars to park outside the gates.

Start with small measures and you are more likely to persuade families to progress to walking buses, which give children the benefit of fresh air and exercise.

Ann Watts, Surrey

Ask for volunteer traffic cops

My school faces a similar situation. As we are approaching winter, parents are more likely to drive their children back and forth. It is getting darker earlier and they feel their children are safer this way. My school has resorted to asking for volunteers to stop the traffic from coming out of the car park so the children can cross, and vice-versa. This seems to work well, as the parents are willing to wait if it means the children are safe.

Laura Peckett, Bristol

Coming up: Students need a jolt "My pupils have done zero work on their GCSE projects. How do I make them take more responsibility for their own learning?" What do readers think? Email We pay pound;40 for each answer used

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