Put brakes on idling at the school gates

Pupils’ message to motorists over polluting engines left switched on

Friday, 4th February — By Charlotte Chambers

Idling protest WhatsApp Image 2022-02-03 at 15.02.05 (2)

Pupils from Montem Primary School appeal to drivers during a demonstration over air pollution caused by vehicles

SCHOOLCHILDREN chanting “no idling” faced off with motorist mums and dads on Friday after staging a demonstration outside the gates of their own primary school – calling for no more cars.

Pupils from both Montem Primary School and Samuel Rhodes School, co-located in Hornsey Road, Finsbury Park, stood outside the gates at ­home time handing out flyers and asking drivers to turn their engines off or not to drive to school at all.

The demonstration came after months of tensions over parking bays outside the two schools, and followed on from an afternoon of anti-idling workshops for the children, run by Idling Action London, as well as a pollution expert from Islington Council measuring the quality of air outside the school each day.

Headteachers say the bays should be exclusively for school buses and coaches picking up and dropping off students with learning needs at Samuel Rhodes, and not used by parents for dropping off and picking up their children.

Montem headteacher Tom O’Donnell called the situation “chaos” as cars pulling up and idling at the gates every morning blocked the road and prevented other cars, buses and children from using the road or crossing safely.

He said: “It’s a problem – the noise and the pollution at the beginning of the day. With the car engines being on [and idling], the fumes are coming in. It isn’t the most welcoming start for our families and children. We want those parents [who are driving and idling] to consider the impact their car has on children and members of the public.”

Mr O’Donnell, who has met with parents and written extensively about it in the school newsletter, said it is now time for Islington to make “unclear signage” in the parking bays clearer, and enable their own parking team to enforce a “no parking or stopping at any time” policy there.

“We need Islington to take action. So far all our attempts at identifying and working towards collaborative solutions have been in vain,” he said, adding that signs that instruct drivers not to idle have been roundly ignored as there is no legal weight behind them.

However, some parents, who have to arrive an hour early to “bagsie” a spot outside the school, complained they have no other way to pick up their children and said parking tensions had left them considering whether to move schools.

Samuel Rhodes pupils during Friday’s protest over air pollution

Selena Hurman, who has two children at Montem, said she travelled from Highbury with her one-year-old, and that one of her children had additional needs which made it harder to leave the house on time.

“I have a child with special needs – it’s hard to get out of the door. We live in Highbury – we can’t get here any other way,” she said, adding that as parking inspectors allow them to park outside, Mr O’Donnell “shouldn’t get involved”.

Another parent said the demonstration was “unfair” and complained she couldn’t walk 30 minutes with a three-year-old, while parent Tugce said they would continue driving if parking was banned outside the school, and simply park further up the road.

Executive headteacher Damien Parrott said that while he was “sympathetic”, he wanted to “explore what that really means” when parents say they have no other option than a car, and added: “I would like the road layout changed to create a better situation for all our families coming to school. The vast majority of families walk, scoot, cycle or use public transport to get to school. We actively encourage this for all.”

Speaking to parents outside the gates, Aisha, in Year 6, said: “Try your best to stop idling and park somewhere else. Try your best to use different ways to get to school.”

Ellie Gooch, from Idling Action London, warned that 80 per cent of particulate matter – the most lethal form of pollution, particularly for children – is from cars. She added: “One way of tacking pollution is by not idling. Doing it outside schools is not necessary and it’s dangerous.”

Councillor Claire Jeapes, speaking at an air quality meeting on Tuesday, called parents who drove their children to school “nuts” and said: “One issue I find really infuriating is that so many parents still drive their children to school – they should all walk or not drive at all… they clog up the streets. That’s my bugbear.”

A council spokesperson said: “We are working on proposals to resolve the parking and idling issues outside Montem Primary School, on Hornsey Road. We are planning a public consultation and we are progressing plans to introduce loading restrictions to stop parents stopping on the yellow line in front of the school’s entrance. We are also optimistic about softer measures to encourage behavioural change, such as the anti-idling events and workshops that took place on 28 January 2022.

“We will continue to actively engage with the school and aim to resolve the issues on Hornsey Road as soon as possible.”

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