My concerns about the various unnecesssary hazards at the school gates has been silently bubbling away for a while now and I've reached the point where I now feel compelled to indulge in a bit of therapeutic moaning! I'm certain that these issues must reflect the feelings of many other parents who have children in infant or primary schools, so I hope I'm not alone in my views here!
A Facebook friend recently posted a remark about her loathing of the habit of smoking during pregnancy, after seeing two expectant mothers smoking at the school gates - and I do wholeheartedly agree with her. Unsurprisingly, the post prompted a flood of passionate responses, mostly from other mothers who also felt the same way.
Not only did most people feel very strongly that smoking whilst pregnant was completely unacceptable, but there was also much anger felt specifically towards parents who smoked whilst at the school gates, thereby forcing children to have to walk through a cloud of smoke to enter the school grounds. Of course, there's also the immediate hazard of children being burnt by a lit cigarette, especially during the inevitable hustle and bustle at the beginning and end of the school day. I am very fortunate that the children's entry point to our daughter's school, (where all the children gather whilst waiting for the gates to be opened) is within a spacious additional gated school boundary which is a designated No Smoking area. This has proven to be an effective means of largely eliminating this problem but we realise that most schools aren't able to enforce a No Smoking policy on their perimeters in this way. Sadly, this also doesn't help children who live in homes where one or more occupants smoke.
Another significant problem around the school gates is the number of parents who bring their dogs when taking or collecting their children from school. Not only are many children (and also adults) very frightened of dogs, but there is real concern for the safety of children entering and leaving school with dogs in such close proximity. I've often seen breeds at the school gates which have a reputation for aggressive tendencies and I've yet to see any of them muzzled. At a child's height any dog can seem very intimidating and even the soppiest and gentlest of loyal family dogs can turn and snap as a normal self-defensive reflex, if they're accidentally stepped on or hurt in the busy school crowds.
I'm also always very conscious of the fact that with their keen sense of smell, dogs at the school gates probably have a tempting banquet of post-breakfast scents wafting past them, thanks to hurriedly washed or wiped little fingers and faces, which are all at a vulnerable, within-reach, height for most dogs (including younger children in pushchairs). Another bone of contention (excuse the pun) is the revolting trail of dogs' mess dotted around the school route's pavements, which can be virtually impossible to avoid sometimes. It's bad enough trying to navigate around this at the best of times, but it's an especially unsavoury challenge for mothers who are hurrying to school with pushchairs or prams, whilst simultaneously trying to ensure that their other children, who are walking or on scooters, manage to stay safe and clean.
I love animals - and dogs must of course have adequate exercise - but the school just isn't an appropriate place to bring a dog and the school run shouldn't be used as an opportunity to get dogs' daily walks out of the way.
Finally, I can't refer to hazards at the school gates without also mentioning how astounded I am at the scale of the national problem of illegal parking around schools. I accept that many schools, particularly in urban areas, don't have enough parking in the surrounding roads, but if walking to school is out of the question, a shortage of parking spaces means having to be more resourceful! Some realistic solutions would be to get to the school a little earlier and/or perhaps having to park a bit further away or maybe sharing the school runs with other parents. I know all this can be an inconvenience, especially for parents who also have babies or pre-school age children with them, or when the weather's miserable, but surely the safety issues must be a priority in any parent's mind? I don't understand how some parents don't recognise that children can be so seriously hurt when illegally parked cars obstruct their view or when cars are parked right on the corners of junctions, hindering the flow of traffic and obscuring lines of vision. In turn, this can also cause further mayhem and danger, leading to frayed tempers when unnecessary gridlock is the result of unlawful and inconsiderate parking.
A few years ago, I heard the impact of a schoolgirl being hit by a car whilst crossing the road outside my eldest's school, where illegal parking is commonplace (periodically, police now attend and issue parking penalties). I managed to find the girl's mother who was on her way to meet her daughter and told her what had just happened. She was of course absolutely distraught and desperately worried, although thankfully her daughter wasn't badly injured as the car had been travelling well below the speed limit. I'll never forget though the intense sense of dread and horror of how badly she might have been hurt and the vexing thought of "what if it was my child?". There just isn't any justification for thoughtless or dangerous parking near schools.
To end on a more positive note, I'm looking forward to the coming half-term week! With that in mind, there'll be another blog post on here in the next few days about a fantastic and really beautifully presented website with the most amazing creative ideas to help keep your children occupied whilst they're off school.