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No Walking or Biking to School

July 8, 2010 permalink

Parents who walked to school alone when they were children now can be busted for giving their own children the same responsibility. London parents Oliver and Gillian Schonrock are under attack for just that.



Boris backs couple threatened by social services for letting their children cycle to school

Boris Johnson today slammed 'barmy' health and safety rules after a London couple were threatened with being referred to social services for letting their children cycle to school.

Oliver and Gillian Schonrock let their son and daughter, five and eight respectively, make the one-mile trip from their home on their own.

They say it helps to teach the youngsters independence, self-confidence and responsibility.

But other parents and teachers at £12,000-a-year Alleyn's Junior School in Dulwich, south east London, are said to think the practice is irresponsible and dangerous.

Headteacher Mark O'Donnell has met with Mr and Mrs Schonrock and told them the school is under an obligation to consider the children's safety and has a legal responsibility to notify the council if they fear it is being put at risk.

Oliver and Gillian Schonrock
Irresponsible? Oliver and Gillian Schonrock were warned they could be reported to Social Services for letting their son and daughter ride their bikes to school

The London Mayor hailed the couple as 'heroes'. He said the Schonrocks should be applauded, not hounded, for showing faith in their children.

He said he 'passionately supported' their decision to allow their children to ride to and from school.

'They have taken the sword of common sense to the great bloated encephalopathic sacred cow of elf and safety,' he said in a column in the Telegraph.

'And for this effrontery they are, of course, being persecuted by the authorities.'

Mr Johnson said it was ultimately the business of parents, not the state, when it came to decisions such as this.

'If Mr and Mrs Schonrock have carefully assessed the route, and considered the advantages and disadvantages, then they should overwhelmingly be given the benefit of the doubt and the freedom to make up their own minds.'

The Schonrock children cycle a one mile route through backstreets to their school in Dulwich
The Schonrock children cycle a one mile route through backstreets to Alleyn's Junior School, below
Alleyn's school
Alleyn's school

Mr Schonrock, 40, the managing director of an e-commerce company who walked alone to school as a boy, said: 'We wanted to recreate the simple freedom of our children.

'Like everybody else our age we spent a lot more time with our friends playing in the streets or parks without parental supervision and without our parents becoming unduly worried.

'These days children live such regimented lives. They can do nothing unless it's planned. We are trying to let them enjoy their lives and teach them a little bit about the risks of life.'

Mrs Schonrock, also 40, said she is 'confident that the benefits to our children far outweigh the potential risk from 'stranger danger', road traffic accidents and other factors.'

David Cameron and Boris Johnson
Boris backs biking: David Cameron and Mr Johnson at No10 yesterday

The couple's children cycle on the pavement from their home in west Dulwich to the school.

Their route takes them alongside roads that become busy with traffic during the school run. At the halfway point they cross a road where there is a lollipop lady on duty.

On the return journey they are supervised, either by one of the parents or their nanny, which is deemed acceptable - but the Schonrocks have been told that they must ensure their children are accompanied on the journey to school as well or they will be referred to Southwark Council's Children's Services department.

two children cycle to school (posed by models)
School run: The Schonrocks', whose son and daughter ride to school on footpaths, have ignited a debate about whether or not children should be allowed to cycle to school unsupervised

Headteacher Mr O'Donnell told the Sunday Times: 'If a school feels a child in their care is at risk, they have a legal responsibility to notify the local authority.

'Is an eight year old responsible enough to come to school with a five year old and take responsibility when it comes to crossing busy roads? Or what would happen if the five year old has a tantrum?'Mr and Mrs Schonrock say rules on child protection, rather than the school, are to blame for the predicament they find themselves in.

Mrs Schonrock, who as a girl took the bus to school from the the age of four with her six-year-old sister, said: 'The question is do the government have the right to put an obligation on schools to not allow any level of risk whatsoever?'

Although schools are not responsible for children on their journey to school, guidance from the Department for Children, Schools and Families states that if a school 'believes or suspects that a child may be suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm' then it must refer the case to social services.

Today Catherine McDonald, Cabinet Member for Children's Services at Southwark Council, said: 'As this is an independent school, it is for them to decide how they arrange transport to school with the parents of their pupils.

'However, if an independent school does contact us, we'd give them the same advice as we do to our own schools, that they should develop a school travel plan with parents and children so they can get to school safely and in a way that promotes healthy living and is good for the environment.

'This would include both cycling and walking.'

Source: Daily Mail