The percentage of children travelling actively to school, either by walking, cycling, scootering or skating, is at the highest level of the last ten years, according to provisional data released by Sustrans Scotland.
The data also shows that in 2020 the percentage of children being driven to school has declined for the first time in four years.
The findings are being released as a provisional report from the Hands Up Scotland Survey, which is an annual survey and an official statistic in Scotland.
Funded by Transport Scotland, the survey took place in September 2020, a month after pupils had returned to school following lockdown.
What the results show
51.2% of school pupils normally got to school and back actively: they walked, cycled, scootered or skated to school.
This represents a 3.4 percentage point (pp) increase from 2019 (47.8%) and the highest level of active travel in the past ten years.
Walking has seen the biggest growth in active travel to school, with an increase of 3.8pp from 41.0% in 2019 to 44.8% in 2020.
A decline in children being driven to school by car
The percentage of children being driven to school by car had been on an increasing trend since 2013, up to 23.8% in 2019.
However, in 2020, this declined for the first time in four years, reducing by 1.0pp to 22.8%.
Cycling to school decreased slightly by 0.3pp from 4.1% in 2019 to 3.8% in 2020.
Likewise, scootering and skating to school experienced a slight decrease by 0.1pp from 2.7% in 2019 to 2.6% in 2020.
Bus use also continues to decline from 16% in 2019 to 14.1% in 2020, the lowest recorded level of the past ten years.
The findings also reveal a difference in travel to school between independent and state schools.
42.3% of pupils from independent schools were driven to school by car in 2020 compared to 22.6% of state school pupils.
Walking has seen the biggest growth in active travel to school, with an increase from 41.0% in 2019 to 44.8% in 2020.
About the survey
The survey was carried out by Sustrans Scotland in partnership with all 32 Scottish local authorities.
Over 70% of all state schools in Scotland (excluding nurseries) took part in this year’s survey.
Responses were received from over 400,000 school pupils and nearly 33,000 nursery children.
Active travel journeys to school are at their highest level of the last decade
Commenting on the findings, John Lauder, Deputy CEO, Sustrans and Executive Director Sustrans Scotland, said:
"It’s hugely encouraging to see that active travel to school has reached its highest level of the last decade.
"It is doubly remarkable considering the previous year showed the highest level of children being driven to school.
"2020 was a highly unusual year, with many parents still working from home or furloughed when schools went back in mid-August.
"We are all aware that the appetite for walking and cycling increased massively during the pandemic.
"This was carried over into changes to the school run.
"Given the decrease in public transport use, it’s remarkable to see that numbers being driven to school have gone down.
"But anecdotally, it’s possible that changes to working patterns and home working for some parents mean that more have been able to walk or cycle with children to school.
We need to keep up the positive habits developed in lockdown
John Lauder continues:
“At the start of the school year, parents and children experienced the physical and mental health benefits of walking, cycling and scootering to school.
"Many experienced this for the first time.
"This is such a great development. But the main challenge for us as a society will be to keep up the positive habits developed in lockdown when we return to a so-called ‘normal’ in the next school year."