Action needed to reverse decline in walking to school

AS PUPILS across Angus go back to school, national charity Living Streets is calling for a new focus on getting children active as figures released over the summer holidays show that walking to school is at its lowest ever level.

Over the past decade, the number of children who walk to school in Scotland has dropped from approximately 56 per cent to 46 per cent, with 23 per cent and rising being driven to school in cars.

As pupils return to school this week for another academic year, Living Streets is calling on local and national government to set targets to reverse this decline.

National charity Living Streets works to create safe, attractive and enjoyable streets around the UK. They run the highly successful Walk to School campaign, which encourages over 1.6 million children, parents and teachers to give walking to school a go.

As it stands, around one in four cars on the road at peak times in the morning is on the school run and around the school gates the ever increasing numbers of cars poses a real danger to child pedestrians.

Living Streets is working with schools across Scotland to increase walking and active travel for all or part of the school journey.

Living Streets Scotland manager Keith Irving said: “The summer holidays have seen publication of figures showing that walking to school is at its lowest ever levels but also major new guidelines on physical activity recommending every child gets a minimum of one hour’s physical activity.

“Local and national government should be setting targets to reverse the decline in numbers of children walking to school and providing support for schools to help pupils meet these guidelines, starting with establishing park and stride points to help pupils arrive safely and healthy at school and tackle school gate congestion.”

Thousands of Scottish pupils will this year be taking part in the largest regular walk to school reward scheme in the world, ‘Walk once a Week’ (WOW) once they return to school. Each year, the Living Streets’ WOW campaign gets more than 320,000 children across the UK to walk to school, with pupils recording how often they walk and winning a badge if they walk four times or more in a month.

Councillor Sheena Welsh commented: “It is disappointing that the number of children walking to school in Scotland as a whole is falling. While I can understand that many parents are anxious for their children’s safety on the way to and from school, in areas such as Angus encouraging children to walk as much as possible in the fresh air can only be a good thing.

“Although road safety issues must always be taken into account, there are many routes to school which are suitable for children to walk and I would encourage parents to foster their children’s independence by allowing them to walk if at all possible.

“The children arrive at school much more wide awake than they do if they’ve come by car, and it can be a valuable part of their daily physical activity.”

She concluded: “Many schools use the ‘walking bus’ as a popular way of getting children safely to school, and it may be that parents who normally drive their children all the way to school could drop them off on the way to join such a ‘bus’ and schools would be pleased to give parents the information required.”

For more information about the Walk to School Campaign and WoW scheme or find out more about setting up a car free zone outside your school, visit www.walktoschool.org.uk