Fencing primary school is submission to “culture of fear”, council is told

Askrigg Primary School : railings and a hedge instead of a six-foot fence.

By Betsy Everett

Plans to enclose a rural primary school behind a six-foot high fence to stop children “absconding” or being abducted have come under fire from parents, residents and local councillors.

The parish council in Askrigg said the school had not responded to representations from themselves or members of the local community, and had shown a lack of interest when the council chair had visited.

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Councillor Bruce Fawcett said he had met acting head Eleanor Harrison with a fellow councillor and a resident and had asked a simple question: why?

“She just said it was to stop children absconding and people getting in. I said it had never been a problem before but she didn’t seem very bothered,” he said.

“In all my time on this council I’ve never known anything that’s been so controversial. I haven’t spoken to anyone who’s for it but they don’t seem to be listening to public opinion. I said this is going to be a PR disaster for the school. People are up in arms about it.”

One resident had been told that the green mesh fence, not high enough to need planning permission, had already been ordered and contractors chosen, in preparation for it being erected during the summer holidays.

“My main request is that we ask them to postpone the work until everyone has had a fair say,” said Vanda Hurn, chair of the Yorebridge Sports Development Association which is based in the school building and uses the field.

“Anyone approaching the school from the sports centre car park will feel like they are going into a prison,” she said.

Cllr Greta Kirkbride questioned how many children had tried to abscond.

“We need to know how are these children absconding. Where to? Who’s absconding? I’ve never seen anyone abscond. If this goes ahead, children will feel like they are trapped.”she said.

In a letter to the council, residents Judy and Robert Nicholls, both professional artists, said they had lived in Askrigg more than 40 years and were “shocked” at the proposal to build the fence.

“This is completely contrary to our appreciation of the area as a community space and as part of our beautiful dales landscape. We believe that it will not only be an eyesore but will send out negative signals to the children, the community, and visitors to Wensleydale.”

They ask what a six-foot fence could do that an extra playground assistant could not do “with care and humanity – and probably cheaper?”

Judy Nicholls told the meeting that building the fence was “submitting to a culture of fear”.

Anne Middleton, chair of the Yorebridge Education Foundation which owns the building and the grounds, said the trustees of the foundation did not approve of the erection of the fence but it was unclear what they could do.

“We can’t veto it. We are required to permit the use of the grounds for the purpose of the school but how that translates to them having the right to erect the fence is ambiguous,” said Mrs Middleton.

However, the foundation should be able to express the desire not to have it erected and “to have the courtesy of a letter and being listened to” which so far had not happened.

Councillor Allen Kirkbride said a beech hedge had been planted on one side of the field. It had not taken well and could be improved, an offer the parish council could put to the school.

Members agreed to write to the school, again expressing their concern and asking them to postpone erection of the fence to take account of the strong feeling within the local community.

“We need to ask them to count to ten before taking any action,” said Councillor Fawcett.

The school field is used regularly by the local community.

2 Comments

  1. We have similar fencing in Great Smearing. I understood that Ofsted were marking down schools which didn’t have such fencing. Maybe Ofsted should be interrogated to see whether they have instigated this regime?

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