New solutions sought as six-foot school fence is rejected by villagers

Heading for a rethink - acting head Maxine Price, centre, with governors Cathy Bergs, Heather Limbach, David Madley and Martin Garside.

By Betsy Everett

Askrigg residents have forced a second re-think on a controversial plan to build a six-foot fence around their village primary school following a heated meeting with governors.

A new group will look at alternatives solutions after parents, parish councillors and trustees of the charity that owns the building and grounds, expressed frustration at the continued determination of governors to install the fence, despite community resistance.

Alternative solutions had been sought since a meeting in September, including, said acting head Maxine Price, a plan to chop off the top two feet of the fence once a new hedge had grown to create a barrier. This, said parish council chairman Bruce Fawcett, could take three to four years.
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“Nobody in this village is ever going to accept even a temporary six-foot fence and if you do it, it’ll be a nightmare with petitions and objections from the whole village.

“We’re getting to a point where kids won’t be allowed to play outside at all. You can’t guarantee a hundred per cent safety for anybody,” he said. 

Extra playground supervision was suggested by Sue Stokes of the Yorebridge Sports Development Association, but parent Asa Gurden, who is responsible for the Scout Association’s outdoor activity centres nationwide said adult supervision was a “non-starter” and could not solve the problem. 

“There is not much you can do as an adult if a child is minded to escape. It’s not an appropriate control,” he said.

However, the problem with the fence was that it had “just appeared as a solution” when other options not been explored or costed.

There were potential solutions but they needed to be properly assessed, he said.

Parish councillor Allen Kirkbride who is also a trustee of the Yorebridge Educational Foundation which owns the buildings, said the charity had offered to pay for a hedge around the grounds.

Heather Limbach, governor, said that following the earlier meeting governors had noted objections and modified the plans but still needed a solution: waiting several years for a hedge to grow wasn’t it.

Ms Stokes said there was no legal requirement for a six foot fence and suggested there was not an“identifiable need,” with no reports of children absconding or getting into the road. 

Mrs Limbach said although the probability of an incident was low, safeguarding the children was paramount: the consequences of a child being knocked down or kidnapped would be “catastrophic”.

Ofsted had not insisted on a fence but did call for “reasonable measures” to protect children. If they failed the test of “reasonableness” they could be put into special measures as had happened to other schools. 

Governor Martin Garside said the school had a moral as well as a legal obligation to keep children in its care safe.

The working group to investigate alternative safety measures would meet on Thursday, November 29, to deliver a solution before Christmas.

Members would be Bruce Fawcett, Asa Gurden, Jan Hale, Yorebridge Sports Development Association, Heather Limbach and Martin Garside for the school governors, and community representative, Steve Lynch.