Leicester

How dangerous is Leicestershire pupils' walk to school?

Image caption Brian Tetley fears narrow pavements would cause groups of children to walk in the road

The dangers of walking to school were debated in Parliament this week after Leicestershire County Council cancelled a free bus for pupils of Humphrey Perkins School, arguing the three-mile walk from the village of Sileby was safe.

I joined representatives from the school as they walked the hour-long route to experience it for themselves.

By law, councils must provide transport for pupils who live more than three miles from their nearest school, unless the route is not reasonably safe.

And until this term all children in Sileby were able to get a free bus to their school in Barrow Upon Soar, because vegetation hanging over the pavement would have forced them to walk in the road.

But after trimming back the plants, the council argued the route was safe and cancelled a bus for 51 pupils who live within the three mile cut-off.

Sandra Pickett, mother of 12-year-old Reece, thinks the council is wrong.

"If the children are allowed to walk down this route there would be deaths, that's guaranteed," said Miss Pickett, walking beside the school's head teacher Peter Nutkins.

Also walking the route with us was borough councillor Hilary Fryer, who is a school governor, and Brian Tetley, chairman of the governors.

Mr Tetley, a safety officer by profession, agrees with Miss Pickett's concerns.

"With my safety hat on, on a rainy dark morning when the vehicles spray up, that road is really dangerous," he said.

"I wouldn't allow my children to walk on it. I wouldn't even allow my staff to walk on it in those conditions."

The 40mph road linking the villages is beside a quarry and an industrial estate, and is used by many cars and lorries.

Miss Pickett fears that higher levels of traffic make it more dangerous for children to walk to school nowadays.

"We can't even get them to bike because it's too dangerous," she said.

Image caption Councillor Fryer said children could fall into ditches which fill up with water from flood plains

"Even on a safe route I'm not sure I would fancy them having to walk an hour to school in the morning in the dark and rain."

As the group gets nearer the school, they point out things which they believe make it unsafe, including "poor" lighting and narrow pavements which force them into single file.

Mr Nutkins worries that children would walk in the road and be hit by vehicles.

"Children are going to walk in pairs and they will stay together as the pavement gets narrower," he said.

"They will be walking along, pushing and shoving, having a bit of a laugh as children do."

Similar concerns were raised in Parliament on Tuesday by Loughborough MP Nicky Morgan.

She told her fellow MPs in a debate: "There are industrial estates, a deep ditch and a conveyor belt for a nearby quarry. The road is also so narrow at points that if two large vehicles pass each other the wing mirrors overhang into the footpath at head height."

Leicestershire County Council did not have a representative available to join the group's walk.

A spokesperson said: "We take safety issues seriously and have carried out three thorough assessments, including one after the clocks went back. We understand the worries of parents but would stress that each analysis has shown that there is a suitable walking route."

Image caption The council repaired parts of pavement which were subsiding, but the school says they are still uneven

For the moment however, the village's children have an alternative.

Mr Nutkins has negotiated a deal with East Midlands Trains, allowing some of his pupils to travel between Sileby and Barrow for a reduced price of 50p a day - compared to £2 for a bus ticket.

This week several children have been trying out the rail journey, though the head teacher has admitted the plan is not without its complications.

Depending on the train, pupils arrive either 20 minutes late or 40 minutes early, meaning the school day for all 900 students could have to be moved back by half an hour.

But for the sake of his Sileby pupils, Mr Nutkins said it was something he was prepared to do.

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