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Walking to School

Journeys to school account for around one-quarter of all journeys for under 16 year olds. They set children's expectations for how to travel short journeys and tend to be habit-forming. Research suggests that travel habits take root early and that inactive children tend to become inactive adults.

According to the National Travel Survey the percentage of trips by car for the under 16s has been steadily rising. This has raised concerns about children's health and fitness as they lead increasingly sedentary lives, and about the loss of opportunities for them to learn, as daily pedestrians, about traffic and road safety.

Over 50% of children don't walk to school regularly, and more and more pupils are being driven to school in a car. The proportion of journeys to school by car has nearly doubled, from 16% to 30%. This trend is contributing to reduced physical activity and increased childhood obesity, urban congestion and air pollution.
The amount of daily exercise taken by children has decreased in recent years. Childhood obesity is at an all time high — now affecting 8.5% of 6 year olds and 15% of 15 year olds. Walking to school increases levels of daily physical activity for children and for parents. Doing this 3 or 4 times a week can half your risk of a heart attack or stroke. 1 in 7 children in the UK have asthma, which is made worse by car exhaust fumes. In busy traffic, children are exposed to more fumes inside the car than outside. Walking or cycling to school increases our lung capacity, making us fitter and stronger.

Journeys to school have a significant impact on levels of traffic and congestion. Although exact figures vary it is reckoned that at the morning peak of 8.50am, 18% of all cars on the road are taking children to school. Near to any particular school the percentage is far greater.

Many of these car driving parents are motivated to drive - ironically - by the large number of cars on the road. As a result, traffic and congestion is increased, and in many areas a vicious circle comes into being - fears about safety in traffic lead to less walking and cycling and more driving which in turn increases traffic. In addition to traffic safety, fear of bullies or gangs loitering at street corners, or strangers lurking in our neighbourhoods may affect a  parent's willingness to allow their children to walk to school. By  encouraging children to walk in groups accompanied by adults, the risk of danger is decreased in these situations.

Research shows that it is possible to encourage greater use of more sustainable forms of transport for school journeys even in areas of very high car ownership. One well-established way of tackling the problem, pioneered by Sustrans, is to develop safer routes for walking and cycling to school. But there are many other things which can be done to reduce car use and improve safety on the way to school, and many local projects are already putting them into practice. But usually no one change is enough to make the difference — a wide ranging travel plan is needed.

Schools in your area may already encourage activities or have measures in place, such as walking incentives, walking buses, encouraging Walking Once a Week, Park & Stride schemes or by including aspects of road safety within the school curriculum.

Schools that encourage these initiatives would most certainly have devised a Travel Plan. A school travel plan puts together a series of measures to improve safety and reduce car use on journeys to and from school. This is backed by a partnership involving the school, education and transport officers from

the local authority, the police and the health authority. It is based on consultation with teachers, parents, pupils and governors and other local people. The school travel plan concept is still relatively new, but it has generated considerable interest both in this country and on the continent. In the latest Department of Education and Skills instruction detailed in the September 2003 Travelling to School: A Good Practice Guide, all schools in Britain should have a travel plan byMarch 2010.

Walking Buses
Popular now in Britain , they mimic the behaviour of an ordinary bus but without the vehicle. The group walks to (and from) school along a set route, picking up (or leaving) children at agreed stops and times. It is in most cases organised and supervised by volunteer adults. The most successful schemes are the ones where there's a group of committed parents.
The benefits are wide ranging:
  • For the children - increased safety, physical exercise, social time with their friends, opportunities to learn about the roads and their surroundings.
  • For the environment - less congestion and traffic, less pollution, less use of fossil fuels, less greenhouse gas emission.
  • For the parents - social contact with other parents when they're running the bus, free time when they aren't, physical exercise and the warm glow of knowing that they are now part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Many local authorities help in the start up of walking buses with risk assessing the routes, providing training, insurance and high visibility clothing for the adults and children and in some cases trolleys for the children's heavier bags.

Park and Stride
Park and Stride initiatives encourage parents who must drive to school to park a good distance away from the school entrances and to walk their children the last five or ten minutes. Even the most regular walkers sometimes might need to take the car, especially after school if you’re  going on to do something in a different place (for example swimming lessons etc.). The Park & Stride scheme is a simple solution  and means that children at least walk some of the way to and from school.

School Crossing Patrols
School Crossing Patrols are provided at sites where there are large numbers of children crossing at the same location on a busy road at the start and finish of school times.  Their role has never been more important than today and as the number of vehicles on the road increases, so does the danger for children when crossing the roads. Local authorities are responsible for the School Crossing Patrol service — approving and reviewing sites, recruiting, training and supervising patroller and the day to day running of the service.

In 2001 the law changed, allowing crossing patrols to stop traffic so that they can help anyone cross the road, not just children. Patrols are usually on duty twice each day In the morning and afternoon, and at some locations during lunch times. Crossing patrols will usually be on duty 30 minutes before and after the start and finish of the school day.

Walk to school campaigns
National Walk to School week takes place every year in the UK. Each year the theme is different but the aim is to promote walking to school in a fun way. Schools across the country are encouraged to take part and the events are featured in local, regional and national press. It’s a good way of getting people involved in walking to school and getting people to break the habit of driving to school so they hopefully carry on walking after the campaign has finished.

Why Walk to School?

Most of us, especially those who are parents, will know just how much the journey to school has changed since we were at school ourselves — more traffic, longer journeys, more to carry, more pressure of time. It is these factors which push us towards using our cars for the school run. However, by changing our travel habits in order to use our cars less, can have a very positive impact for children in many ways:

Walking regularly with a child from a young age enables them to develop life skills; preparing children with road safety and personal awareness skills.

C = CONGESTION reduction

Fewer cars on our roads is good for the environment and local communities; fewer cars at the school gate can make it safer for pupils making their way to and from school.

H = HEALTH benefits

Walking to and from school allows adults and children to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines.

O = ON the ball at school

Pupils who walk to school arrive wide awake and are therefore more prepared for the school day ahead.

O = OUR fun and friendship

Friends and family can walk to and from school together and enjoy some quality time.

L = LEARNING for life

Walking regularly enables a child to become more familiar with their surroundings.


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