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Enabling communities to tackle the school run

By Emma Walker,
Glenrothes family cycling to school

Family cycling to school in Glenrothes, Scotland

The journey to and from school is one made by thousands of children across Scotland each day.

And for those travelling actively – be that by bike, scooter or foot – it is a chance to learn more about their local area, share experiences with their friends and family and improve their health and wellbeing.

But whilst the health and wellbeing benefits of travelling actively to school are well known and documented, for many, time, convenience or worries over safety mean that there simply isn’t the option for this to happen. 

The recent publication of the School Travel Survey for Parents, released by Sustrans Scotland and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, highlighted many of the barriers faced by families when travelling to school by foot or bike.

Safe routes to school

A key finding from the survey showed that the main barrier for parents and carers getting their children to travel more actively to school was fears over their physical safety. 

The survey found that 42.4% of parents felt that unsafe walking and cycling routes, a lack of or inadequate pavements, ineffective or lack of crossings, unsafe school entrances and dangerous driving were all major factors which prevented their children from walking, cycling or scootering to school.

One parent said: “Even if we lived closer I would have to transport my children due to the area surrounding the school (within one mile) is not safe for children to walk or cycle, due to busy roads.”

And whilst grants such as our Safer Routes to School fund are available to local authorities to help create safer paths and links to schools for local communities, it is clear there is much more to be done to enable children and parents to feel safe when walking or cycling to school.

Active travel inequality

Having the choice to get to school by foot or by bike should be an option afforded to all children regardless of where they live, but this isn’t always the case.

Our research showed that the motivation behind the way children travel to school varied depending on if they lived in an area classed as low or high deprivation.

While parents living in areas of low deprivation said their main reasons for their choice were motivated by fitness (40.8%), convenience (39.1%) and wellbeing (34.5%), parents in areas of high deprivation said their main reasons were down to physical safety including traffic (32.7%) and personal safety such as stranger danger (26.5%), as well as convenience (25.2%).

Children living in areas classed as high deprivation don’t have the same opportunities to travel actively to school as their peers, creating unequal opportunities for children to make healthier, more active journeys every day.

Urban vs rural communities

The study found children living in rural areas face additional barriers to travelling actively to school, with parents citing distance as a key issue.

Adequate transport provision was mentioned by parents who felt they lived too far from the school to travel actively. Some parents could not afford to pay for the bus if it wasn’t subsided, and some children had a school journey by car subsided by their local authority, due to distance or a safe route to school being unavailable.

Tackling the school run

Our Safer Routes To School Fund gives Local Authorities and partner organisations the chance to apply for money to help improve unsafe walking and cycling routes.

Partners can apply for up to 50% matched funding to address issues such as a lack of or inadequate pavements, ineffective or lack of crossings and unsafe school entrances - all major factors which our School Travel Survey showed prevented parents from encouraging their children to walk, cycle or scooter to school.

With 22% of primary one children in Scotland at risk of being overweight or obese, with children living in areas of high deprivation almost double as likely than those in less deprived areas to be at risk of being obese (NHS Scotland, 2017), it’s more important than ever to be enabling communities to travel actively for more of their everyday journeys to encourage happier, healthier communities.

If we are to encourage healthy travel habits in children which can last a lifetime, now is the time to tackle the school run in every community.

Find out more about the Safer Routes to School fund in Scotland