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 31.

    Pity the reporter wasn't taught rules of grammar - see the very last sentence. It's either "between 1st AND 6th May" or "FROM 1st to 6th May".
    Perhaps Ms Harrison needs to walk herself back to school

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    If all children and parents walked to school when is possible, there wouldn't be so much fear for safety. Too many eyes for potential perverts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    This article seems to miss one key point - a big reason for driving the kids to school, at least where I live, is that the parent then has to get to work in a reasonable time frame, which often means driving.

    I'm lucky in that I can flexi-time just enough to cycle the kids to school and then cycle to work, but a lot of people won't have that option.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Would be easier if everyone attended their local school. So many now go to schools miles away, caused by schools setting their own "catchment areas" parents being encouraged to exercise "choice", closure of smaller schools etc. As a result, many children live over 2 miles from school, even those who wanted the local school end up somewhere different. Academies make this worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Most, and I mean THE VAST MAJORITY of crime against children occurs within the family or close friends of the family. It's the first place the authorities look FOR A REASON. The next biggest group is people in positions of trust.
    The truth is too many people trust bad people, because "they seem nice". Yet they want to linch the guy with tatoos, long hair, or a big camera.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Suggestion:- Introduce road tolling based on the first Mile of the journey for all cars.
    Yeah, because we don't pay enough for using our cars currently?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    It's impossible to walk to school near me. Too many cars parked half on the pavement while parents drop their Little Princess off at school.

    Isn't it funny how people think flashing warning lights and parking half on the pavement excludes them from double yellow line parking restrictions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    No Surprise...

    Distances have increased as a result of...

    Over 2 decades, instead of bringing existing local schools up to standard, we set one against the other causing major problems eg: long distance schooling and congestion, increasing travel and pollution, need for breakfast clubs, weary children, house price hot spots and explosion in costs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    UK is such a happy place right now and there's no danger for kids out there at all. Really though? From bullies, to yobs, to more serious criminals, I think people have a right to worry.
    Maybe parents are so busy these days and they'd like more time with the kids, but they don't want to go to work late?
    Or maybe, years of fear tactics to grab headlines finally rubbed off on the public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Suggestion:- Introduce road tolling based on the first Mile of the journey for all cars. It might make parents think about making better life choices for their kids and for thier wallets, reduce pollution and remove the plans to Tax necessary journeys on Motorways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

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

    Actually it's easier/faster because lots of people are off work looking after the kids during the half-term breaks.
    The effect of actual school traffic is much more localised and nowhere near as big as you might think.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    If parents are concerned about someone pulling up and dragging their child into a car, the solution is actually quite straightforward:
    Educate your children in how to behave when on their own and not get into vehicles etc.
    Ensure they walk to school with a friend or two.
    Allow your children freedom to build their confidence so they don't think every stranger is "out to get them".

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Stranger danger?

    There is more likelihood to them being abused in the two places they are travelling to and from.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I always walked there and back to School, the only time I didn't was when it rained and then I had to justify to mom why I still didn't walk! Kids don't walk anywhere these days, they are taken to and collected from School in huge Chelsea Tractors. By walking they get exercise, interact with their mates and generally chill out from the days work, even revise together! Parents are to blame here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    @ 13.HandSignals
    Many parents have to work and get there as quickly as possible after dropping their children off at school.

    - Hopefully you will realise that killing a child on the way to work is not worth doing before it actually happens.
    - Would it hurt your child to wait outside the gates for a few minutes and then you get to work in good time without rushing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Any parent of small children will tell you that walking children to school is slow as they dawdle and get waylaid. Many parents today have to rush off to work and time is important. Driving is not sustainable, but what about a US style school bus system?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    7. Sir T Fiable "Don't give me stranger danger"
    Agreed. In fact 'stranger danger' is yet ANOTHER moral panic, which just like the one about so-called obesity in kids, has been perpetuated by the media and Govt to keep us all anxious and fearful. I used to walk 20mins to school, through several alleys, long before these days of pedophile hysteria, and was never approached by any strange adults.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    @ 9 "some stupid paranoid woman" very respectful perhaps type of argument & tonality predators put forward along with "they are in no more danger... etc"

    As stated the school advised parents about three attempts (failed) at abducting children. You entrust your child's life to an uncorrobarated statement that they are in no danger if you wish. The predators are out that's a fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Many parents have to work and get there as quickly as possible after dropping their children off at school. The luxury of walking to school as a Mother with your children and then wandering home is vanishing due to the high cost of living. Ironically, my son used to walk and cycle to school but his asthma became so bad triggered by exposure to traffic fumes he now catches a school taxi (no bus).

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    One thing that puts me off the idea of kids walking to schools are all the school run maniacs rushing to get their space near the gates and then rushing off for their hair appointment (or job) afterwards.


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