With the Government having pledged to do more to improve road safety in Northern Ireland, East Belfast Alliance representative Naomi Long has warned that children’s lives will be lost if there are no new initiatives to attract school crossing (‘lollipop’) patrol people to the job. Cllr Long said that there should be a Government review of pay, terms and conditions for patrol people, as this is out of the hands of NI education boards.
Councillor Long said that since it was revealed last May that there were 72 vacancies for crossing patrol positions, 49 of which had been vacant for over a year, nothing had been done to attract more applicants.
In East Belfast alone there are vacancies at eight of the 26 sites in the BELB area. There were further vacancies in Castlereagh, including at Rosetta and Wynchurch, where a petition was gathered and passed on to the Education Minister Jane Kennedy in November. Alliance highlighted the issue and one post at Wynchurch was filled recently.
Cllr Long said: “In one SEELB school, pupils doing their 11-Plus would have last seen a crossing patrol person in their first year of primary school.”
“Figures I have obtained for East Belfast illustrate the depth of the crisis. There are eight vacancies at schools such as Cabin Hill, Strathearn, Bloomfield, Ashfield and Orangefield Primary. The two sites that resulted in the original petition at Wynchurch were vacant for almost four and seven years respectively.”
“While many of these posts have been advertised repeatedly, the fact remains that without significant changes to the terms, conditions and pay for school patrol people, the lives of young children will continue to be put at risk.”
“At a time when the Government has launched a series of initiatives to decrease the appalling level of road deaths, it seems unthinkable that nothing is being done to attract people to work on patrol at school crossings.”
Cllr Long said that Education Minister Jane Kennedy had written to her to explain that one post had been advertised by the South Eastern Education Board five times, advertised in school and parish magazines and letters issued to parents at least three times.
“If this is what has to be done in order to attract interest, there is clearly something very wrong.”
“But the fact remains that the Government has totally failed to deal with the underlying problem. The introduction of job sharing arrangements, better pay and a targeted advertising campaign to raise public awareness of the important of ‘lollipop’ men and women could help get more patrols on the road.”
“Many of those doing this job are retired and some even see their personal allowances unfavourably affected when they take on their duties. If people do not feel respected, no wonder there are so few applications.”
“If we are to have faith that school pupils can get to and from school safely, the Government must take action. Speed cameras are far from a complete road safety solution and children’s lives should not be put at risk because the Government cannot be bothered to carry out a review.”