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The school run: Cycling and walking to school

Children crossing the road to school with help of a lollipop lady

The school journey is a perfect opportunity for children to learn about their local area, develop wider social networks and gain independence.

The average primary school journey is just 1.5 miles, and yet one in five cars on the road during the morning peak are doing the school run.

Encouraging children to walk, cycle and scoot will reduce congestion and pollution around the school gates. It will also help your child’s mental and physical health. Teachers find that pupils who walk and cycle arrive at school more relaxed, alert and ready to start the day than those who travel by car.

Cycling to school

Nearly half of children surveyed by Sustrans in 2010 wanted to cycle to school but only 4% were allowed to.  The biggest concern of adults when it comes to children walking and cycling to school is traffic danger.

Cycling to school helps young people to develop road safety skills and learn how to manage risk gradually. As children gain the skills they need to stay safe, they can develop independence, discovering strategies and solutions for getting about themselves.

Of course, an adult can always accompany younger children and help older kids get used to their route until they’re ready to go it alone.

Equipment and clothing

Carrying heavy books and equipment is often seen as a barrier to cycling to school. Panniers fitted to a rack on the bike are the best solution, although a small backpack is often sufficient. See if your child’s school provides lockers.

Your child should be as visible as possible to other road users and pedestrians. Confident road positioning (as taught through cycle training), high visibility clothing, lights and reflectors are great ways to do this. A white front light and red rear light (constant or flashing) and reflectors are legal requirements when cycling in the dark.

Cycle helmets are designed to give protection from a fall. Though not compulsory, Sustrans recommends encouraging children to wear them.

Walking to school

Walking to school helps children to engage with their local community, develop wider social networks, greater spatial awareness and improved road sense.

By 2050 it is predicted that 70% of girls and 55% of boys will be overweight or obese, but a short walk each day is easy, free and good for the health.

We have loads of advice on walking with children.

Top tips to get your child walking or cycling to school

  • Plan your route together in advance, finding quieter roads and cycle paths wherever possible;
  • Practise the journey at the weekend when the roads are likely to be quieter;
  • Accompany your child for a few days. As they gain confidence, gradually reduce how far you go;
  • Make sure they know how to deal with any busier junctions or roads by following our cycling safety tips;
  • Encourage them to find a friend to walk or cycle with them;
  • If your child is cycling then cycle training can be a great way to help them develop skills and increase their confidence on the roads.

Read our advice on buying a child's bike and basic equipment 

Learn about cycling safety for children

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