Walk-to-school numbers falling, say campaigners

Father and daughter walking Parents say time pressure, plus fears of busy roads and "stranger danger" stop them walking more

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Half of parents driving their children to UK primary schools live under a mile away, walk-to-school campaigners say.

The charity Living Streets says the numbers walking to school are falling.

A survey of 1,000 parents it commissioned from YouGov found that one in four parents said they did not consider walking their child to school.

However, four out of five said they had walked to school when they were young. Schools across the UK are marking walk-to-school week.

The National Travel Survey for 2011, published last year, showed that 49% of children aged between five and 10 walked to school. That was down from 53% in 1995-97.

At secondary level, 39% of children were walking, down from 42%.

Living Streets says walking to school is an easy way to build exercise into a child's day.

Its survey found half of those who drove their children to school lived less than a mile away. The group says a one-mile walk typically takes about 20 minutes.

The charity's chief executive Tony Armstrong, said: "The overwhelming majority of our grans and granddads walked to school, but over generations we are seeing a steady decline to the point where it seems a fifth of parents wouldn't even think about ensuring their child walks to school.

"Meanwhile obesity rates have more than doubled, even since I walked to school just 20-odd years ago."

The charity is calling for more action from central and local government - and parents - to get more young people walking.

'Stranger danger'

In Hertfordshire, it says a pilot scheme it was involved with, funded by the Department for Transport, led to more children walking.

Tactics included offering incentives, such as badges or stickers, to children who walked to school, plus promotional events.

A "park and stride" scheme was brought in, where parents dropped their children at a place close enough for them to walk to school with a teacher or other nominated adult.

The campaigners also worked with parents to find out what was stopping them from walking and to find solutions.

Time pressures, distance and fears of dangerous roads and "stranger danger" are often given as reasons, they say.

Another project, with the Department of Health, urged parents in England to "walk once a week" to school with their children.

Living Streets says walking to school should be a key element of government strategy to encourage people to be more active.

Chief executive Tony Armstrong said: "We hear a lot from the coalition government about investment to encourage participation in sport, but it overlooks this very simple and cost effective intervention.

"Encouraging the walk to school not only helps to keep children healthy today, but makes for healthier adults in the future."

Carbon and congestion

In a report just published, the charity says the government "must try harder" and calls for a "strong national focus on walking and active travel".

It praises the coalition for its pledge to promote "sustainable travel initiatives" including cycling and walking, and for the ring fencing of money to develop local sustainable travel.

But it is critical of the scrapping of regulations which meant schools' travel patterns had to be tracked and says there is "little sign of any coordinated approach or direction from government on a chunk of travel behaviour which impacts very strongly on both carbon and congestion".

Transport Minister Norman Baker said the government shared Living Streets' desire to get more children walking to school.

"As the report mentions, our £600m Local Sustainable Transport Fund has supported schemes up and down the country, many of which include elements which make it easier for children to walk or cycle to school," he said.

"The report also calls for joined up thinking across government departments - this already happens and I would welcome more. My officials work closely with colleagues from across Whitehall on issues that are of interest to more than one department and encouraging children to walk to school is one of these."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The only "school" I was ever dropped off at/collected from (by foot) was nursery. After that it was "walk you lazy ******" (on my own/with friends). Plus, anyone turning up at school with their parents, let alone in a car was thought of as weird.

    Finally, my (shared car) cummute is always much much easier without all the (stupid) 4x4's ferrying kiddies to school who could walk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    The more we protect our children from risk during childhood, the more we expose them to risk during adulthood.

    How can any child learn how to walk safely if you take them everywhere in a car?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Last month, some stupid paranoid woman in Sheffield posted on Facebook accusing an innocent photographer of being a pedo, the response was a virtual linch mob looking for him.
    Your "abduction attempts" are probably the same sort of thing.

    There's no more danger now than 50 years ago, we just get to hear about it more these days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    "obesity rates have more than doubled"
    Only because they've changed the way 'obesity' (a horrible, stigmatising slur which should NEVER be used to label kids) is measured and defined in order to create a moral panic. Kids of ALL sizes can benefit from walking, but as others have pointed out, a number of factors including poor quality local schools, bullying, speeding cars etc act as deterrents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Don't give me stranger danger ...

    The biggest "Stranger Danger" is that our children face IMO, is that children will grow up ignoring everyone they don't know through ignorant misplaced fear of sexual-assault or abduction blown up out of all proportion by a media which delights in "daughter's disappearance" stories, a high proportion of which turn out to involve relatives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    In the past academic year I have received no fewer than three letters from school advising parents about attempts to abduct children on their way home from school. My children do walk with much trepidation on my part. I don't blame those who chauffeur their kids it's to do with child protection from predators waiting to pick them off, they love walking initiatves it suits their motives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I used to walk to school when at primary school as I was only 15 minutes away. I remember when I went to secondary school, I wasn't eligible for the free bus pass yet I was in a school half way across town and needed to catch 2 buses. the walk did me good but I must say that. I recommend the walk although with family in yorkshire dales, I can understand why some people need the bus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The government has promoted the academy programme, meaning that catchment areas can be decided by academies, not local government. Some don't have a catchment area at all. So more people travel to schools further away, because they can get in, instead of going to their local school, which would make more sense for everyone including other commuters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I had to walk to school too it did not harm me or my friends, if anything it allowed us to become aware of road sense as well as allowing us to have exercise in addition to what we had in school too both at playtime, PE & Games most of which do not seem to exist in schools these days. Parents today just seem to be very lazy & not engage with their children in any form of activity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    no lemog, you do not punish those that need the free bus pass by taking it away from all

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    yes, I had to walk to school as most of the time my family couldn`t afford the bus fare. Take away free bus passes from todays kids, this will ensure that a good proportion of them walk to school.


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