26 February 2015
The number of children walking and cycling to school increased by an impressive 16 per cent after just one year of taking part in an innovative school travel programme in Northern Ireland.
Sustrans is currently working with 126 schools across Northern Ireland to enable more pupils to travel actively and safely to school rather than rely on a lift from their parents or other forms of transport. With new figures revealing home-to-school transport costs more than £100m every year in Northern Ireland, Sustrans is urging schools to sign up to the new year of its Active School Travel Programme.
The three-year programme, funded by the Department for Regional Development and the Public Health Agency, begins recruitment next week for the new academic year in September. In just the first year of the Active School Travel Programme the number of children being driven to school fell from 53 to 45%, helping to reduce congestion, lower carbon emissions and improve safety around schools.
Sustrans’ work has been encouraging children to become more physically active, as cycling or walking to school is associated with an overall increase in children’s physical activity. One in four children 10-years-old and under in Northern Ireland are overweight or obese, with less than half getting their recommended 60 minutes of exercise each day.
A survey of schools in the programme found 90% of teachers regarded it as having a good or excellent impact on pupils’ levels of physical activity. At the start of the programme only four in ten parents said their children were active for more than an hour a day – this rose to six in ten just a year later.
Beth Harding, Active Travel Co-ordinator said:
“This initiative provides the school with a planned programme of activities throughout the year, both in and out of the classroom, and direct hands-on delivery from a dedicated Sustrans Active Travel Officer, with the aim of getting more children walking, cycling and scooting as their main mode of transport to school. If you are interested in applying for the programme please contact Sustrans for more information.”
Eamonn Donaghy, a teacher at Rosetta Primary School, in Belfast said:
“We have seen an increase in the number of pupils who walk, cycle and scoot to school. This has had a beneficial impact on the children with those who cycle and walk being fitter, healthier and more alert with high levels of concentration. The pupils, staff and parents look forward to continuing the project next year.”