Should children cycle to school?

Every so often I find a new hero. I read in the papers of some individual who is managing to swim against the glutinous tide of political correctness.

In this age of air-bagged, mollycoddled, infantilised over-regulation it can make my spirits soar to discover that out there in the maquis of modern Britain there is still some freedom fighter who is putting up resistance against the encroachments of the state; and when I read of their struggle I find myself wanting to stand on my chair and cheer, or perhaps to strike a City Hall medal in their honour.

Such were my feelings yesterday morning when I read of my new hero, or heroes, to be precise. We are talking of a married couple from Dulwich, south London, by the name of Oliver and Gillian Schonrock. I have not been able to contact this illustrious pair – since it didn’t seem fair to phone them up on a Sunday – but if the papers are right, they deserve the thanks of us all. They have taken the sword of common sense to the great bloated encephalopathic sacred cow of elf and safety. And for this effrontery they are, of course, being persecuted by the authorities.

What do they want? They want their children, aged eight and five, to have the right to walk or cycle one mile to school. They have found a route that seems perfectly safe to them – involving one crossing of the road, with the assistance of a lollipop lady or other parents. In doing so, they have scandalised the apparatus of the modern British state, because they have enough faith in their children, and in the safety of London’s streets, to allow them to do this on their own. “We wanted to create the simple freedom of our childhood,” says Oliver Schonrock. “Like everybody else our age, we spent a lot more time with our friends playing in the streets or parks without parental supervision and without our parents becoming unduly worried.”

What happened to the Schonrocks, when they were so rash as to allow their children to go to school or play in the park on their own? They were reported to the school, and the school consulted the rules. Oo-er, said the school: according to guidance issued by the former Department for Children, Schools and Families, a school must assess whether a child is likely to suffer harm on the way to and from its premises, and if the answer is yes, then the parents must be reported. Last week the Schonrocks met the headmaster and were told that they must either supervise the journey, in both directions, or else be referred to social services; and I have to say I think that edict is utterly barmy.

I know there are many parents who will be nervous of according complete sympathy to the Schonrocks. They may feel they are slightly eccentric, or that the streets of leafy Dulwich are different from other parts of town. But the fundamental point is that this is the business of the parents and not that of the state. If Mr and Mrs Schonrock have carefully assessed the route, and considered the advantages and disadvantages, then they should overwhelmingly be given the benefit of the doubt and the freedom to make up their own minds. Gillian Schonrock says she is confident that “the benefits to our children far outweigh the potential risk from ‘stranger danger’, road traffic accidents and other factors”; and as it happens I believe she is almost certainly right. London is now one of the safest big cities on earth, with youth violence down 10 per cent over the past two years, robbery down 20 per cent – and the murder rate at its lowest since 1978.

Of course no one can be complacent, not when we have a continuing scourge of knife and gang crime. That is why we need to maintain police numbers, and the Safer Neighbourhood teams, and that is why we are doing everything we can to address a tragic problem that especially damages the lives of young black males. We have taken 10,000 knives off the streets, we are tackling recidivism with a highly effective educational unit for young offenders at Feltham, and we are expanding mentoring schemes for some of the most alienated and vulnerable young people.

But you need to think more deeply about the psychology of the kids who get caught up in these gangs. What advantages do they get? They get hierarchy, and boundaries, and a sense of belonging and protection. But more fundamentally they get a sense of adrenalin and daring; and the tragedy of formal education today is that anything remotely risky or exciting is simply pasteurised to oblivion.

That is why we are this autumn encouraging the expansion of You London, a police-inspired project to get more young people involved in uniformed groups such as the Scouts, the Guides, the cadets and so on. You might not think it was every child’s cup of tea, but there is a huge waiting list of children who want to join. Why? Because there aren’t enough adult volunteers to help with the activities. And why aren’t there enough adults willing to volunteer? Partly because of the blasted Criminal Records Bureau-ridden elf and safety culture that assumes there is a paedophile lurking behind every bush.

Children, especially male children, need to learn about risk and daring; and if we don’t give them opportunities for excitement they will simply invent their own, with gangs, and sometimes that will end in disaster. That is why I passionately support the right of the Schonrocks to take their own decisions, and to take their own risks, and I hope our new Government does so, too.

We talk a lot about giving people responsibility. What the hell does that mean if the authorities are forced, by the rules, to second-guess the child-rearing decisions of this south London couple? Their vision of urban life is profoundly attractive – a city so well policed, and with so strong a sense of community, that children can walk or cycle on their own to school. Instead of hounding the Schonrocks we should be doing everything we can to make their dream come true – in every part of the city.

The original article appeared in The Daily Telegraph

44 thoughts on “Should children cycle to school?”

  1. “They were reported to the school”. Which is the most sickening part of the episode. One citizen has a need to denounce others, for allowing their children to get to school by themselves. Is this what we put up with, now?

  2. What is REMOTELY eccentric about not wanting your child’s childhood to be smothered in cotton wool by a branch/es of the State that have lost all sense of perspective in the hunt for complete elf n’ safety. There was a time, not long gone, when the Schonrocks would have been thought of as normal, loving parents – not eccentric!

  3. Maybe you should have copied that letter to the Guardian. No doubt there would have been uproar.

  4. You have probably all come across somebody at work who, having made an utter Horlicks of his or her own job, tries to interfere in everbody else’s. This is a favourite pursuit of those who are vested with a little transient power.

    Never mind about teaching the children. Improving education would require much work and a school’s achievement or lack of it could be measured. Let’s try instead to address issues around transfers between the school and home environments, leverage our position vis-a-vis nutritional outcomes or champion inclusivity across the board.

  5. Health and Safety is the enemy, I guess. America’s greatest living poet on the subject:
    “Can you imagine the way I felt?
    I couldn’t unfasten her safety belt..”

  6. I listened to the whole debate on the Vanessa show this morning on radio London and both sides made good points. But when I see little children cycling along beside busy roads it makes me wince. When i cycled with my young children- they would be on the pavement with me in the road making a barrier, they knew the traffic was around and had to make all the decisions- but you need to be around them at that age. Grant

  7. Ed, I have to say I totally agree with your first post. The level of snitching and interference nowadays is appalling. The Schonrocks are obviously thoughtful and devoted parents, but someone still felt the urge to rat them out.

    Did all this stem from when Labour were encouraging kids to report on council tenants who put their rubbish out on the wrong day, and they were bribing the kids to do it? I’m not so against the way they had the hotline for people to ring to rat out those who were cheating on their benefits, although I don’t think that I would ever do it, because thousands of pounds were being swindled from the state.

    But how dare other people interfere in the way that the Schonrocks bring up their kids?

  8. And what is the cause of the health and safety regulations in their thousands that makes this wrong?
    Hmm… Could it… no?
    Could it have anything to do with the E.U perchance?

  9. We should build up a cyclenetwork for schools: certain meeting points at certain times on the way to school, with helping parents guiding the children from one point to the next.Depending on schools and area, several children from various schools can cyle together from one point to next, then taken to school by another adult to their specific school.

  10. Angel, snitching is vile. A few years ago, an anti-drink driving campaign offered £800 to anyone whose tip-off to the police resulted in a conviction. They put a little poster up in the pub. Guy A said he would tip off the police to guy B, whom he didn’t like, and who would often drive after a few pints. Which led to the obvious question: why don’t you tell B that he’s over the limit, and shouldn’t drive. A said there was no money in that. It was resolved of course, but despite the good intentions behind the campaign, isn’t it really only a very small step from there to the Stasi?

  11. Ed I often agree with what you say. Maybe they could create a T.V. reality show, Be A Rat Fink. Snitches could compete to provide the worst examples of betrayal. I am sure this has all increased because New Labour encouraged people to rat on their neighbours for one reason or another, because that way, they could have more power over the masses. I seem to recall that locally there was snitching on people who used their hoses when there was a hose pipe ban. It attracted the sort of people who would immediately have become collaborators in Nazi Germany.

  12. Children should be able to cycle to school. All of them them. However, it shouldn’t require their parents to be “heroes” for this to happen, and their doing so shouldn’t appear to be so dangerous that anyone calls social services.

    If conditions for travelling to school were the same in London as they are in the Netherlands then this story would not have been news.

  13. Angel, they’re everywhere. And all I wanted to do was poison the pigeons in the park.

  14. There’s more to the plot than Ed Gibb imagines.  A, the finkor, finks on B, the finkee, who then leaves the pub followed by the watchful police.  At this point the finkor — himself not just over the arbitrary prescribed limit but actually incapable owing to the influence — slips away from the pub having used the finkee as a decoy.


  15. The Schonrocks deserve a community service award and the Mayor should institute awards mechanism to recognise those who stand against the nanny state. No expensive panel of analysts and consultants just a sniff of the air and a spontaneous decision from the Mayor himself. I would recommend a posthumous award to Fred Hill who at 74 years of age died in Pentonville Prison during his 31st prison sentence that led from his refusal to wear a crash helmet when riding his motorcycle. The media ignored the story but some of us remember.

  16. Pericles, the clot thickens: when denouncement-as-duty comes to pass, as it has in many places at many times, those who do not denounce are of course denounced; and it begins, like so many bad things, with the man in Whitehall who really does know best.

  17. Perhaps all Britons — true Englishmen at least — should conspire to visit upon our Gestapo what eventually made the original one ineffective :  let all Englishmen report all other Englishmen for every imaginable transgression against the socialist state ;  then watch as the forces of the state sink under the weight of data.


  18. Right on, Pericles: weaselmania! A concerted British practical joke. Put Jack Dee at the helm.
    Come to think of it, you wrote ‘Englishmen’ in your post. This is exclusive of other ethnic groups, (racist) demonstrates hostility to not just women but trans-gender people, (sexist) and by the use of the letter E in the upper case constitutes archaic triumphalism, with unmistakable imperialist convictions (fascist). At best you are oblivious to the discomfort your actions have caused, and at worst, you have a malevolent and premeditated desire to wreck our wonderfully inclusive nation of social justice. I’ll check with the Police to find out what the going rate is for shopping an enemy of the state.

  19. Why don’t parents & schools in the UK encourage “a walking bus” as they do in many places in Australia? Two or three parents take turns to shepherd the children to and from school. Children wallk in pairs in a line. Works here!

  20. I wonder, Ed, whether who ever checked the ‘descend’ sign against your last (a) lives in Islington or (b) has not quite grasped the concept of irony.


  21. 5 year olds should not be cycling to school unaccompanied by an adult, it is dangerous, the roads are dangerous.

    Boris is foolish supporting this campaign, the city he allegedly manages on behalf of his plebs is over crowded,with a high concentration of violent individuals and too many cars.

    South London is not a safe place for a 5 year old to be cycling alone and without an adult

  22. ”a city so well policed, and with so strong a sense of community, that children can walk or cycle on their own to school. ” Boris Johnson

    Problem is London is not well managed or well policed – have you been to south London lately ?

  23. Edd Gibb, your joke comment about Pericles’s ” Englishmen ” ( July 17 @ 5: 57 pm ) – although you were trying to be sarcastically ironic, you are obviously a very politically correct person, or should we say, a very politically correct Englishman, to put it precisely.

    You complained about my word ” bush people ” without asking me first who I was referring to as ” bush people “.

    Well, in my book, ” bush people ” means idiots. If you look at the spectators watching the World Cup matches in the stadiums in South Africa, they are mainly tourists and a lot of whom blowing their vuvuzelas. Poor, black South Africans can not afford to pay for tickets.

    So in your book, ” bush people ” means poor black South Africans or poor people in any poor countries around the world?

  24. “In my book”, Bush people means: a) people who suck President Bush. b) people who need a trim- a Brazilian trim, “to put it precisely”.

  25. Gotham Girl alludes to ‘issues’ (problems, I assume), principal amongst which is the combination of motor and cycle traffic.

    A big problem for driving-licence holders (and even for real drivers) is the humungous quantity of road signs and markings and their complexity.  Now — inevitably — there is to be another genre of sign to look out for.  Another problem relates to lawlessness in the behaviour of many cyclists :  it is all very well exhorting motor-vehicle users to look out for cyclists but the cyclists are frequently their own worst enemies, failing to comply with the rules of the road and not even taking rear observation — never mind signalling — before changing direction.

    In Oxford — England’s equivalent of Peking — cyclists and other road users, especially pedestrians, get along just fine.  Why ?  I’ll tell you why ;  something that has died out since the demise of the British Empire :  common courtesy.  When a cyclist comes up behind pedestrians on Catte-street, he waits till they move aside (which they do immediately upon noticing him) and only then passes amongst them — with a ‘thank you’ for good measure.  Pedestrians, on the other paw, take rear observation before changing direction, knowing that a cyclist might be approaching astern.  Let us hope that something of the Oxford way of life comes to London.


  26. Edna, if you meant ‘idiots’, then why didn’t you type ‘idiots’? Why did you type ‘bush-people’?

  27. Ed love, again, why did you automatically assume it means poor black Africans or poor people in poor countries. That’s your way of thinking, love.

    I don’t think like that. Bush-people ( if it doesn’t mean idiots to someone ) might means cave people, dinosaur time people. Certainly not poor people in poor countries in modern time.

    I’m not saying your way of thinking insults black Africans, considering I’m not a very politically correct person myself. I’m only saying you should not accuse someone of racism if you are not 100% sure of exactly what that person said really means.

  28. Yeah that’s right! When Edna said bushpeople (who blow their trumpets like mad at every match), why did you automatically think bushpeople means S. African black people (who are not in the stadiums), and not the foreign tourists (who are in the stadiums)?

    Does bushpeople only mean poor or black people to ya?

    With a dirt poor background like that, Edna wouldn’t call bushpeople bushpeople at all.

    (bushpeople bushpeople at all??? ooh bloody hell, I’m confused ‘ere.)

  29. Edna! Great to hear from you again. I posted nothing about poor people, black people, or racism, with regard to your posts. You did.

  30. Now that I think about it Edna, if you back-pedal any faster, you’ll come off your bike, and I guess I’ll be required to report your parents or guardians to Social Services.

  31. It’s alright, love. I just know that in my book bush-people means cave men, dinosaur time people. Take care, love.

  32. “…bush-people means cave men, dinosaur time people”.

    Dear Edna,
    all things considered, I think we have all benefitted from this: we know what you mean by “bush-people”, and you now know how it’s generally understood by others – as SA bushmen, or perhaps people in the Outback. Neither existed in dinosaur time, nor are/were all bush-peoples cave-dwellers, nor particulary “stupid”. Nothing PC about that, merely C.

  33. Mr Boris, I like your article. I was not allowed to walk to school until I was about 7. I would have cycled but it was 8 miles to secondary school. At first I wanted to say don’t let the elf and safety people win but it is not always safe. It is a common sense area and dare I say each case a separate risk assessment to use the lingo. Edna substitiution when we all know know what people are saying can be just as hurtful or non pc but there is no reason why we have to be pc is there?
    What did the poor pigeons in the park do Ed.?

  34. Great article Boris, seemed clear cut at first. A case of elfs taking over clear lunacy but there are issues common sense must prevail. How old are the children? How far are they walking/cycling? What is the neighbourhood like (are they bad)? Are the roads safe to cross? It is a case of the parents having to make the decision but why on earth were the social services involved?

  35. An 8 year old is not a competent person to supervise a 5 year old, not in the house on their own, not in the park and certainly not for a mile’s journey ANYWHERE! Can anyone say Madeleine McCann?

  36. …and can I also add that you are all mad if you think that parents should be able to make their own decisions, including bad ones. We all know that there are people out there who are not fit to be parents and children of such as these rely on the kindness of strangers to speak out when they cannot! It is our DUTY to report something that may harm a child and I would rather be reported a hundred times than someone see my children in a position of danger and do nothing!

  37. I think it is appalling that some nasty little snoop of a person decided to report these sensible parents to the school ,but I think it even more deplorable that our nanny state allows the school to make a decision as to whether or not these parents will be reported to social services! I am so disgusted! Ten years ago, where we live in London, my son’s primary was just around the corner, there was one road to cross, with a lollipop lady, and my son aged 8 was nagging me all throughout the year to be able to walk to school on his own. I had a very free open childhood, and I am a psychologist as well, so because I trusted my son, because I trusted the upbringing I had given him, I finally decided to let him. I alerted the school that I would be doing so, I followed well behind him on the first few days, and when I stopped following behind him, I phoned the school to ensure he had arrived for the first couple of days. My son was brilliant! He never once did anything stupid, and never once did I feel that he was in serious danger! I am fearful of the generations coming up, because they won’t have the right life skills, and the ones who fall in with gangs do so because sadly, at least they are learning some life skills, albeit on the streets, in a rather different way to what they would have done years before where they could have just been allowed to play outside with their mates! I am sick to death of liberalism run mad which seems to think it knows better than me, the parent. Worse still, are the people out there with nothing better to do than to sit around and judge those who have the courage to do what they can’t. Did the other parents in my neighbourhood get upset with me? Yes, because I was the first one to give my son the freedom to walk to school, did they all eventually follow? Well it was ten years ago, so yes, they did!

  38. …yes, but Suzanne, your child was EIGHT. This is an eight year old being expected to not just walk to school but also be responsible for a 5 year old! Do you agree with that? If you had two children the same age, would you have let the 5 year old out unsupervised too? It took you a year to let your eight year old out!

  39. I was born in the saddle (cycle) but am appalled at how many parents I see out in the countryside or on the roads without cycle helmets on their kids. I would like to get involved in a campaign to get the message over about the safety imprecations of this?

    What do you think Boris about these issues? Can I help with the campaign please?

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