Tameside head came up with idea after noticing increase in asthma among children
Last modified on Wed 13 Feb 2019
Primary school pupils in Greater Manchester have started patrolling the streets outside their schools as uniformed “junior” police officers, issuing fake parking tickets to parents parked on the pavement or sitting with their engines running.
The junior PCSOs (police community safety officers) were the brainchild of Steve Marsland, the headteacher of Russell Scott primary in Denton in Tameside, after he noticed a huge increase in the number of children with asthma. Eighteen months ago, he started to use an inhaler after having trouble breathing dangerously polluted air.
With the school located less than a mile from the M67 and M60 motorways, and the busy A57 nearby, it came as little surprise last year when air pollution levels were found to have breached legal limits of poisonous nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
Pollution was only part of the problem: the cul-de-sac that led to the school gates had become dangerous during the chaotic morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up.
“It was absolute carnage, cars parked all over the shop, taxis sitting idle with their engines on, their exhausts spewing out fumes right at the height of passing children. One day a six-year-old lad was walloped in the face by a car door as he walked past,” said Marsland.
Last year, he decided to deploy the children – under the supervision of teachers – to police the street outside the school gates and to try to shame the adults into changing their behaviour.
He appointed 12 junior PCSOs from year six, kitting them out in dark blue baseball caps and hi-vis jackets.
Within days, the school run had become more civilised. “No one is going to be abusive to a 10-year-old,” says Marsland. “Now all but a few hardcore parents are either walking their children to school or parking a bit further away and walking the last stretch.”
The junior PCSOs have been such a success that a number of other schools in Tameside have employed their own. “We’ve had calls from other schools around the country too, plus police forces,” says Marsland. Now he has published a “how-to” guide on the school’s blog, with downloadable resources.
On a frosty, sunny morning this week, six of the Russell Scott junior PCSOs reported for duty at 8.45am. One girl, Natasha, had been on duty only a few minutes when she spotted the morning’s first violation: a man in a black Volkswagen with his engine running. Along with her friend, Brook, she scampered over to the car and tapped on the window. Two seconds later, the engine was off.
Nathan, 11, was pleased: “Fumes come out of the exhaust pipe at the height of toddlers and you can inhale it and it causes damage. It’s really bad for toddlers because they haven’t got such strong lungs,” he said.
Eleven-year-old Bradley soon spotted a Volvo he didn’t like the look of. “They’ve parked on a dropped kerb,” he said. He delighted in sticking a ticket to the windscreen and waited for the culprit to return. She looked suitably chastened and promised not to do it again.
Not everyone takes their telling-off so well. “Once a woman tore off the parking ticket and chucked it at us,” said Bradley. “The next day she came back and said sorry though.”