A generation ago, 70% of school pupils walked to school – now it’s less than half. It is important to reverse that trend. The school run alone is responsible for generating two million tonnes of CO2 per year in the UK. During morning peak traffic times, one in five cars on the road are taking children to school, contributing to congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions. Converting car journeys to walking improves local air quality and contributes globally to a reduction in carbon emissions. It’s also been proven that children who do some form of exercise, especially a walk before school, do better in class because they arrive refreshed, fit and ready to learn. Walking to and from school also helps children achieve the recommended government target of 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Walking to school can save families an average of £400 a year versus the cost of running a family car.
Suggestions for your campaign
Top Tips for sustainable and energy saving school travel
Encourage cycling by providing secure bike storage and lockers. Cycle parking should be secure, visible to school staff, durable, well lit, easy to use, accessible and sheltered. Check out the information sheets about Cycle Parking for Schools and Cycling to School on the Sustrans website.
Set up a Walking Zone. A walking zone is a defined area around the school, within which children and families are encouraged to walk rather than drive. Families who live in, or near, the walking zone are encouraged to walk to and from school every day. Those who live further away, and choose to drive or take public transport, are asked to park or hop off outside the zone and walk the rest of their journey. Further information on setting up a 'walking zone' can be found on the Living Streets website.
Set up a ‘walking bus’ or an alternative scheme. A group of children can walk to or from school supervised by volunteer adult escorts. Both adults and children wear high visibility jackets. The ‘bus’ follows a set route with agreed pick-up points. In a ‘buddies’ scheme, pupils walk with friends, siblings and/or older/younger pupils.
Involve pupils in monitoring your current travel-to-school practice and identifying possible solutions. Get pupils to design a survey to find out how children get to school at the moment, and why they make their current transport decisions. Use the survey results to decide how you might get people to change to walking, cycling or using public or school transport.
Hold special promotions for active travel.
Nominate one day a week as walk/cycle-to-school day. Once a week can later be extended to two days or a whole week.
Devise a pedometer challenge where pupils or classes try to achieve targets or beat their personal best.
Hold a bike MOT day with local cycle shops to service bikes and raise awareness of bike maintenance.
Arrange training for walkers and cyclists on independent travel. This training could be part of PSHE or be offered as an out-of-school-hours learning activity. Bikeability sets out the training and skills essential for cycle trips in today’s road conditions. The charity, Brake, has further information about pedestrian and cycle training on their website.
Spread the message to pupils and parents. It is often parents who make the decision about how their children will travel to school. Fears about traffic and stranger danger, plus parental concerns about timekeeping and the need to balance other activities (e.g. the commute to work) can make the car the default option. If parents have a better understanding of different routes to school, the time they take and the safety measures that have been put in place, then more children will walk or cycle to school.
Liaise with feeder schools to agree guidance for new pupils on sustainable travel. Encourage pupils and parents to think how they might travel to their new school. Help them identify sustainable methods and most appropriate routes from day one. Provide all relevant information to help parents and pupils choose to walk, cycle or use public transport.
Find ways to involve pupils obliged to travel by car. ‘Park and stride’ schemes encourage parents to park a little way from the school and walk the rest of the journey. These schemes can be set up from local car parks, supermarkets and leisure centres where there is a convenient route to school.
Pupils can play a vital role in encouraging parents to take part and asking organisations for the use of their facilities.
Encourage car sharing with ‘postcode coffee mornings’ to help parents identify others who make similar journeys.
Work to improve bus provision and behaviour on school transport. Talk to bus operators about modifying services, routes and timetables so that more pupils can choose public transport for school journeys.
Poor behaviour and fear of bullying are given as reasons for not using public transport. Senior pupils can act as monitors on school services, identifying and eliminating unsocial behaviour.
Work with your local authority to identify safer routes and possible highway, footpath, and crossing improvements. Many local authorities support ‘Safer Routes to School’ projects to encourage more pupils to walk, cycle or use public transport.
Involve pupils, parents and carers in identifying the most popular routes, the main barriers to walking or cycling and any safety concerns.
Reduce emissions from school business journeys. There are many ‘hidden’ journeys taking place during the school day. These range from school minibuses travelling between sites/facilities to school trips and excursions, to journeys for meetings with governors or the local authority. Take action to minimise their carbon impact, e.g. combining journeys or encouraging walking, cycling or use of public transport. Staff who are driving minibuses can be supported by guidance or training on ‘smarter driving’ which has a significant effect on fuel efficiency, saving up to 15p in every £1 spent on fuel. For more information, visit the Energy Saving Trust website.