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School-run parents face threat of ban on children

Head warns: ‘Pupils will be removed if you break parking rules’

A PRIVATE primary school has threatened to bar children whose parents flout parking rules during the daily school run in Hampstead.
The shock warning from Serena Alexander, headteacher at Devonshire House School in Fitzjohn’s Avenue, marks the latest development in an increasingly tense row over peak-time parking in the north of the borough.
Ms Alexander declined to speak to the New Journal but, in a letter to parents, has warned that there will be sanctions for bad behaviour.
Her letter says: “We are fielding angry telephone calls and letters from residents and are dismayed that a small handful of parents are giving the school a bad name with our neighbours.
“It is with regret that the school has decided that any parents who persistently put others in danger may be asked to remove their child(ren) from the school, for the protection of others.”
The alert at the £3,400–a-term school coincides with a massive Town Hall row over parking permits. Parents furious at the council’s withdrawal of parking concessions demonstrated at last Wednesday’s full council meeting. All permits are due to be phased out by 2008.
Schools Travel Action Group (Stag), which organised the protest and counts celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and Star Wars actor Ewan McGregor among its members, handed over a 1,500-signature petition last Wednesday.
Kate Gibbons, from Stag, told councillors: “Stop withdrawing parking permits and reinstate the permits withdrawn. Some schools have already lost 50 per cent of their parking, affecting private schools and state schools alike.”
Every seat in the public gallery was taken as councillors discussed the issue, often interrupted by cheers or howls of derision. Some rival protesters argued that children should be encouraged to walk to school – not driven there.
Labour environment chief Councillor John Thane said the council would not budge on the policy of withdrawing permits. He told the meeting: “Parents are still free to choose any school and to take their children by any means they choose, including driving them there by car, but the council is not helping parents who use cars.”
The withdrawal of permits was intended to change behaviour, to influence the choices of school made by parents and the way children travel to classes, he added. Cllr Thane produced statistics showing the school-run traffic dominated roads in the mornings and afternoons – and warned that emergency services could be delayed.
He added: “It would be daft of us to undermine policy to make concessions to parents who still take their children to school by car. It’s absolutely important that we keep faith with this.”
Opposition councillors are warning that a problem fueling the school-run tension is the difficulty parents have in finding a quality state primary school in Camden.
Conservative councillor Andrew Mennear said: “Camden has taken its eye off the ball in recent years and schools are not performing as well as everyone thinks they are. There is a lack of choice for parents but Camden is turning a blind eye to it.”
He said that not just well-off families but also working class parents were having to choose private alternatives because they could not find a primary school they were happy with.
Labour education chief Councillor Lucy Anderson said: “All our schools are popular and oversubscribed. Local parents send their children to local schools and that’s what we want to continue.”
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