Last Saturday David Blunkett was widely reported to have declared the 'school run' responsible for one-third of all polluting traffic on the roads. He, like many others, thinks bikes, buses and walking are the answer. Yippee. Does he propose wiping out this problem at a stroke by providing schools worthy of the name within walking distance of all? Sorry, no. In the education secretary's world, the abysmal apology for schooling generally on offer has nothing to do with why people should want to cram themselves in predictable traffic jams to travel unconscionable distances first thing every weekday morning. The answer, according to Blunkett, is in citizenship classes. These will be introduced into the National Curriculum in September 2002 , and will demonstrate to tomorrow's parents that it is naughty to drive between 7am and 9am.
So that's alright then.
Good local schools within walking distance affect more than the quality of urban air. They are one of the single best means towards a healthy urban community. They are an effective guarantee of all of the following:
Families who will put down roots in a locality for at least 18 years.
Networks of local friends and acquaintances, of parents as well as children, to animate and commit to the neighbourhood beyond the school walls. This is our best bet for a public atttachment to place that is fundamental to urban regeneration.
A major part of the local population who will have a sustained experience of class and racial mix in an otherwise stratified and segregated world.
School is our first and most influential communal experience. Blair really did get it right with Education, Education, Education. But the thinking behind this mantra is joined up further than he acknowledges.