A NEW school fence erected around Ketwell school field by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council has sparked a furious controversy on social media led by residents who fear the loss of another grassed area in the town that can be used for sports.
James Baron, himself a keen sports enthusiast and organiser of charity football events, has expressed his disappointment at seeing the fence installed and says that it’s another example of a trend which seems to be leading to the loss of more and more open space for the playing of sports.
“In the last 10 years,” said Mr Baron “Inmans school field has gone! Drapers lane – Gone, it’s unusable, and now Ketwell lane – fenced off and Gone! The field at Ketwell lane was a hive of activity in the summer months with teams training and small groups playing a range of ball games till dark. It was the last field Hedon children could go and play and keep fit.
“In my opinion it is ludicrous that tax payers money is spent on a skate park when a simple grassed area cannot be maintained!”
The maintenance issue referred to by Mr Baron is just one of the reasons that the school field has been fenced off. As a school playing area Hedon Primary School is responsible for its upkeep paid for out of the school budget. As well as grass cutting this means keeping the field clean, including the removal of rubbish; broken bottles, discarded cans, dog mess as well as general litter. Prior to the fence being constructed by the council, this was a daily activity delegated to the school caretaker who had to make additional inspections and trips to the field immediately before each school field activity to ensure it was safe to be used.
With the field previously unsecured, then ensuring the safety of children at play on the field required five responsible adults to be present for adequate supervision.
Mr Baron says that while he agrees with the reasons behind the East Riding Council’s stance, the fencing off of Ketwell field highlights the lack of public play space in the town:
“I think the wider issue is why does Hedon not have a grassed area which can be used for sports? Looking around this area everybody plays football. You only have to walk down to Eastside on a Sunday morning to see five or six teams playing every week, and all Hedon teams. The children of Hedon need a grassed play area!”
Whilst the focus of Mr Baron’s comments have concentrated on his concerns about the lack of public playing fields, other commentators on Facebook have focussed on the Ketwell/Ivy Lane fence itself. The perception is that a public area has been fenced off, and again understandably residents have been concerned about this. However, the land is a school playing field (albeit previously unfenced) and the efforts of the school to make it more easily and conveniently accessible for school use is understandable too – and there is a requirement for the school to make the area safer for the children in its care.
“…the school has not stopped community access…”
Also, contrary to some perceived opinion, the school has not stopped community access to the field. Teams, clubs and groups that regularly use the site can still make arrangements to get access and need to contact the school about this. The school itself has made efforts to contact many of these groups.
The issue of the lack of open public space for children and adults to play, raised by Mr Baron and others is a serious one that needs to be investigated. Those public areas that are available, or become available – places where people can just turn up with a ball and play – then the issue of making them safe places, free of litter and dog mess, etc needs to be tackled too.
There has been some concern, that the debate around this issue on Facebook – including the Hedon Blog Facebook page – has got quite ferocious and even nasty on occasions. In response, Hedon Mayor and East Riding Councillor John Dennis has asked for the following statement to be published:
“Having read the many inaccurate and potentially damaging statements being made on Facebook, about the fencing of the school field, I feel I must speak out in support of the Head Teacher who has unfairly borne the brunt of many of these hurtful comments.“My understanding of the background is as follows.“Firstly, this field belongs to the school; it is not, and never has been a public playing field. No other schools allow unrestricted access to their land.“There are notices saying no ball games, no alcohol, no dogs, but do people take any notice? Absolutely not. I’ve even seen people on the field let their dogs off the lead after dark!“In recent years, due to Health and Safety rules and Safeguarding of Children regulations the pupils of the school have not been able to derive any benefit from either ordinary playtime use of their field, or for supervised sporting activities within the curriculum. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that the field is unfenced! Children could easily wander away, or worse, ‘undesirables’ could wander in! Also inconsiderate use by unauthorised members of the public is a worrying aspect with regards to the safety of children .“I attended a meeting at the school last October at the invitation of the head teacher, and a number of senior ERYC officers from the School Grounds Team and the Safeguarding of Children Board explained that the school was faced with failing the next Ofsted inspection if it was not able to provide the pupils with a well-balanced curriculum – including external activities on their own school field.“We walked the field that morning to find all sorts of rubbish scattered around from unauthorised activities, including dog poo, beer bottles and cans – some with liquid still inside – the remains of several fires, a complete window frame with the glass smashed into shards – and a condom. Not the ideal playthings for 5 to 6 year old children! I’m sure the parents would have been less than impressed to know their children would be allowed out into such an environment.“Another reason the field wasn’t being used for its own activities, apart from its condition and the costs of additional daily caretaker inspections was that there is a requirement for severe teacher/pupil ratio of supervision because the field was not enclosed safely. The school just does not have the resources to take so many teachers out of classrooms to enable one class to play/undertake sport.“Finally I was told at that meeting that the funding was to come from the local authority, not from the school, and my understanding is that such decisions are made at County Hall, not by the Head Teacher, although of course she is consulted..“It has never been the case that community groups will be prevented from using the field, they just need to make a proper application to do so, and to accept the rules that apply.”