Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta
Not that long ago, it was the norm for children to walk to school, catch a bus or train, or get a lift with another parent. Today, more parents are choosing to drive their children to school and this has meant a lot more traffic congestion around schools and demands on available parking spaces.
There can be a variety of reasons why more parents are choosing to drive their children to school. Research suggests that the main reason is to do with concerns around safety and children crossing busy roads. Regardless of the reasons why it is happening, it has meant that there is often a shortage of available and safe parking spaces around the school site. Some parents/carers are responding to this by double-parking, saving spaces for others or arriving up to an hour early to guarantee prime parking near school gates. These practices raise stress levels for parents and school staff, and can create serious safety issues.
While schools have responded to these challenges in creative ways, such as ‘kiss-and-ride’ arrangements or drop-off and pick-up zones, these come with their own challenges, not only for parents but also for local residents and business who sometimes cannot access their driveways. So what’s the answer?
The issue needs a whole-of-community response because schools are such an important part of local communities. Introducing different start and finish times for students, and more flexible school hours are worth exploring. Encouraging students to walk or ride to school together where is it possible and safe to do so builds independence and provides opportunities for exercise and social interaction. I know of schools where groups of parents have a roster system to drop off and pick up children.
In the end, the priority should always be ensuring that every student gets to and from school safely, and we all have a big part to play in that.
Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta