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They're parking mad

New regulations from Brussels mean that every school now needs a risk-assessment strategy. Such an exercise can bring great benefit to all areas of the school as well as highlighting the problem zones.


All hell lets loose when school is out in the sleepy, picture postcard village of Odiham, in Hampshire. John Gawthorpe, the headteacher of Mayhill Junior School, says: "I've seen parents manoeuvring cars in such a way as to put children at risk - reversing and pulling out of a line of parked cars. Children have to look out for cars going in six different directions. We've had double yellow lines painted in front of the school gates and a warning sign in the road but it doesn't seem to make any difference."

Nestling close by the church and on a crossroads, Mayhill is pretty well in the centre of the village whose narrow back streets are unsuited for the convoys of4-wheel drives and executive saloons making the school run. Close by is Buryfields Infants School where another set of parents is also picking up their children. At the end of the day, there can be up to 150 cars crammed bumper to bumper in two narrow lanes.

A recent Automobile Association survey found that almost a third of parents with children aged between 5 and 11 drive them to school every day, often covering a distance of a mile or less. According to the AA,1,400 child passengers are killed or seriously injured every year.

Mayhill once had a crossing patrol but, in this predominantly middle-class area, no one has come forward to fill the long-vacant post. John Gawthorpe has campaigned for the street outside the school to be designated one-way and the parish council is trying to move the scheme forward - it has to be said against some local opposition.

The situation is in stark contrast to every other area of the school where health and safety is paramount and where John Gawthorpe receives the full backing of parents and governors.

Over the summer, Hampshire completed an Pounds 18,000 refurbishment of Mayhill's rambling main building built in the 1880s. John Gawthorpe's priority was to create a new medical room next to the school office where staff could keep an eye on sick pupils. Previously, the medical room had been out of evervone's way at the end of a corridor behind closed doors.

The second objective was to restrict exits and remodel the entrance hall with a glass partition to the office so that visitors could not walk in unobserved. John Gawthorpe admits his thinking has been shaped by recent events such as the stabbing of the London headteacher Philip Lawrence and the Dunblane tragedy. He says: "Peel apart the issue of school security and it boils down to personal safety and risk assessment and adopting assertive non-confrontational behaviour."

Elsewhere safety standards are evident. Stairwells are isolated by fire doors glazed with safety glass. The stairwells have no wall displays to catch fire and create fumes but are decorated with murals in flame-retardant paint.

The school has a health and safety policy under which all staff have a duty of care. Once a term the head and site manager are accompanied by a member of the governing body on a detailed inspection of the building. John Gawthorpe says: "With the involvement of a governor, we're getting an extra pair of eyes. He sees things that we can miss like a wire sticking out of the fence. Children were using it to bore holes in conkers, but at eye level that wire could have caused a serious injury."

Meanwhile, he has devised a solution which he believes will ease the problem of the school run. He has asked the the local authority to instal a pedestrian gate so that the school's main gates can be locked against cars. He is then looking for road markings to indicate a pedestrian route from the main gate to the next street.

Hampshire is keen but the school is in a conservation area so matters like signage and whether the design of new gates should match the Victorian wrought iron originals have to be thrashed out.

So far, no child has been knocked down but John Gawthorpe does not want to wait for a fatal accident before the police and the local council take action. "We've had several near misses. How do you get authorities to act and parents to co-operate?"

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