Why Charlton’s schools need a car-free day every day

Parking outside the new Our Lady of Grace school
February 2017: Parents’ parking causing problems outside Our Lady of Grace school

Last month, schools in Charlton and across the borough of Greenwich took part in the STARS Car-Free Day, which saw roads closed outside schools. It’s an attempt to highlight the problems caused by parents driving their children to school – and to persuade them that leaving the car at home makes life easier for everyone. Local father Nathan Hughes says this should be more than a one-off token gesture.

“My lungs feel better already,” was my note to Ben Murphy, traffic officer for Greenwich Council. I said the same to local councillors, who were on show, along with our supportive local MP as he passed by.

Of course, you need the reason why. Whilst checking my son’s school bag one evening I found a short note titled ‘STARS project’, which informed my wife and I that Friday was a walking to school day and that the roads surrounding his particular primary school and a number of others in the borough were to be closed for a period of time throughout the day and afternoon.

We set off for school as normal that morning and found an obvious reduction in both traffic and the sometimes overlooked noise.

There were children playing games in the roads which the schools had organised (cycling, rowing machines, hopscotch, and more) and a noticeable excitement in the body language of the children. The headteachers thanked us for walking – a statement which really made me laugh.

As many parents know, the catchment areas of schools these days – and probably always have been – can be summed up as “if you you don’t live within walking distance to the school, you won’t get in”.

With this being the case, why is that so many parents or carers decide to continually drive their young to school on a daily basis?

I would suggest the investment in our public transport these days has become exceptional. It is frequent and reliable – although many would choose to dispute that – and the added benefit of tracking it through smartphone apps mean we are constantly updated.

I put the driving to school down to laziness rather than a necessity.

Possible reasons why:

  • Moving further out as soon as the child has been allocated a school place, taking advantage of maximised property prices
  • “I need to make other drop-offs”
  • “I won’t get to work on time”

On the first point, this means some families are denying children living in close proximity to their closest school a place, thus making them travel further afield and having a detrimental impact on the immediate community. This just isn’t right.

Our borough’s primary education system has an abundance of excellent, enthusiastic, passionate teachers that have turned our schools into arguably some of the best in the country, making the options ever more attractive.

Positive impact and suggestions/ideas:

  • Local retired residents might like to get involved by supporting/marshalling the school roads
  • Local businesses. There’s an opportunity here to grow our community, as some of the local shops might find a way to promote their businesses through pop-up shops before and after school.

We all like to think we have an interest in the environment. But we choose to ignore the easiest thing to do and one that would make a huge difference. School run traffic has been chaotic and at times unsustainable for local residents, some of whom adjust their schedules around the inconvenience of the double parking.

Let’s start making a real difference to those little lungs. It could also help the older ones too. School by school, class by class, year by year, we could make a positive change – just like the one our teachers have made to an increasingly popular borough.

It shouldn’t just be be a one-off poster to stick to the school gates, it needs to be embraced and properly implemented.

What do you think? Could you help make car-free days a regular occurrence? Leave a comment below.

Visit Charlton Manor Primary School on Open Garden Squares Weekend

The annual Open Garden Squares Weekend takes place 8-9 June, and Charlton Manor Primary School are opening their doors to the public to show off their Secret Garden.

Charlton Manor Primary School pupils work with the gardener
Charlton Manor Primary School pupils work with the gardener

Headmaster Tim Baker writes:

Visitors will get a tour of the garden and a talk about how the garden is used to support the curriculum. For those that wish we will also give a tour of the children’s kitchen.There will be tea and cakes available on the day. The cakes are made from produce in the garden, ie eggs, honey, carrots etc.

The Secret Garden at Charlton Manor is hidden behind the dinner centre. It provides the children with a quiet area to go at break times and at other times during the day when they may have difficulties concentrating in class. It is packed with learning opportunities and as well as having allotments, a greenhouse and raised beds it also has 4 bee hives, a chicken run home to 10 chickens of different breeds, a stag beetle environment, a composting area containing 4 different composting methods including a wormery, a hide for bird watching, a bird box with cameras linked to the internet, a wildlife area together with pond and an area for conducting investigations using computers such as pond dipping. The children use it through most of the curriculum. Much of the produce is used in the school’s newly built teaching kitchen, enabling them to understand how this all fits with healthy eating.

Champion readers may have seen the school featured on BBC News recently, as they contributed to a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Pupils have been attending the show and manning a stand to tell the public about the plants they grew, and have been visited by a number or members of the royal family and celebrities visiting the garden.

This correspondent went along to the school’s Open Garden event last year and enjoyed the experience very much (the cake was particularly good). Why not call by to see what’s going on in this green-fingered corner of SE7?

The address:

Charlton Manor Primary School
Indus Road