Two old men

John Adams and (even older – positively venerable) Mayer Hillman are looking for a younger enthusiast to carry on a research project that Mayer and Anne Whalley began at the Policy Studies Institute. In 1971, they conducted a survey of English children’s independent mobility – how they got to school, visited friends and so on, whether they were allowed to get about and use public transport on their own and, if they owned a bicycle, to ride it on public roads, and how they spent the weekend previous to the survey. Parents also were involved by completing a questionnaire about the age up to which they imposed personal mobility restrictions on their children, and the reasons for doing so.

These surveys were repeated in the same schools in 1990 (published as One False Move … and available online at http://john-adams.co.uk/books/). This follow-up study disclosed a dramatic loss of children’s independence over the previous 19 years. For instance, in 1971, 80% of 7 and 8-year old children got to school unaccompanied by an adult but by 1990 this proportion had fallen to 9%. With the collaboration of John Whitelegg, then at the Wuppertal Institute, matching surveys to provide a cultural comparison were conducted in West Germany. This revealed that, compared with the English, children there enjoyed a significantly higher level of independence.

Now, close on 20 years later, we think it would be instructive to conduct the surveys again to produce a 40-year review and to extend the comparison to other European countries to widen understanding of the influence of culture. The study would be an opportunity to chronicle the changes in children’s independent mobility and the possible relationship this has had with their physical and emotional development. It would also help to explain the social significance of children’s loss of what could be described as a right and enable lessons to be learned from wider international comparisons with the experience, behaviour and attitudes of children and parents in other countries.

We offer our services as eminences grises (John thinks he is beyond grise and that Mayer is preternaturally ungrise) to assist/guide whoever might be interested in continuing what we believe to be an important area of policy-relevant research. We are looking for someone to coordinate the European dimension of the proposal (we can provide introductions to other potential collaborators in other countries on the Continent) and someone who would conduct the surveys of children and parents in the English schools involved in the earlier surveys – this could be developed into an interesting PhD project. Of course, the two ‘someones’ could be the same person.

Anyone tempted, please contact Mayer in the first instance at mayer.hillman@blueyonder.co.uk.

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  1. Independent mobility | hilpers says:

    […] mobility http://john-adams.co.uk/2008/12/29/two-old-men/ from John Adams’ blog. Help Wanted, as they say. Guy — May contain traces of irony. Contents […]

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