Government must make walking to school safer

EAST Belfast Alliance Councillor and Alliance Education Spokesperson Naomi Long has welcomed the ‘Walk to School Week’ initiative which is aimed at reducing the traffic created by the school run – but has expressed her concerns at the potential problems which it may create in Northern Ireland.

She has expressed fears that even parents who would back the environmental aims behind the scheme may be reluctant to support the promotion given the large number of crossing patrol vacancies in local schools. They may also partly explain recent figures from BRAKE which found that NI children are more likely to be killed or injured on the roads than in any other part of the country.

Cllr Long as recently written to the Government, calling on it to actively tackle the personnel crisis for school crossing patrols in Northern Ireland. Alliance is calling for a task force, involving Government departments and Education Boards, to look into how the level of vacancies for ‘lollipop’ men and women can be reduced.

Cllr Long said: “Whilst I would totally support calls for fewer cars on the school run in order to reduce traffic congestion and the pollution associated with needless car journeys, I would share likely parental concerns about child safety, given the current crisis in lollipop staffing numbers in Northern Ireland.

“It appears that the vacancies crisis affecting school crossing patrols is being ignored by the Government. No department is prepared to take responsibility, and education boards are powerless to improve pay and conditions.

“A task force of all interested parties should be set up to find measures to reduce the number of vacancies. If Northern Ireland has a particularly bad problem, perhaps it is time that pay and conditions were set to meet the local situation. Alliance would also favour increased opportunities for job sharing, to increase flexibility and encourage more applicants.

“I want to see action being taken now. The lives of our children travelling to and from school are too important to be ignored. If the Government acts now to tackle the problem of vacancies we may well see that parents are even more likely to participate in next year’s Walk to School Week initiative.”

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