School run? We prefer to walk

With the numbers of children who regularly walk to school decreasing, Emma Harrowing talks to one mum from Hethersett who is bucking the trend.

National charity Living Streets is running a Walk to School campaign as part of International Walk to School month. According to the charity the past few decades have seen the number of children who walk to school drop from 62pc to 48pc, with an enormous 43pc being driven to school. Fewer than half of primary school children now walk to school, despite the fact that the majority of pupils live within a mile and a half of their school.

As children are bundled into the car ready for the school run, one mum from Hethersett is making sure that her four-year-old daughter is suited and booted ready to face the elements outside.

At 8.35am precisely four-year-old Evie Wood puts on her black school shoes to contrast with her grey and green uniform, grabs her homework file and by 8.40am she is leaving her home and walking to school with her mum Laura and her one-year-old brother Joshua.

'There are many parents who drive their children to school but I find that it is easier and quicker to walk,' says Laura Wood. 'If I drive, by the time I've got the children strapped in and fiddled with Josh's car seat, we could've almost been at the school gates if we had walked.

'Even when it is raining you still get wet getting the children in and out of the car and walking to the school gates, so you might as well put on your raincoat and wellies and walk.'

It's a 0.7mile walk to Hethersett Woodside Infant and Nursery school but the route is quite straightforward. The journey gives Laura and Evie quality time to talk about the school day ahead, a joyful conversation which might have been missed out on if Laura was driving and concentrating on the road.

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'We also sometimes bump into other children walking to school with their parents, which gives us both a chance to socialise,' says Laura. 'Walking also gives us both a bit of exercise and fresh air.'

The benefits of walking to school are highlighted by the Walk to School campaign. Exercise and fresh air improves children's concentration in lessons, increases their fitness levels and helps the environment. And with many children not getting enough exercise the walk to school could provide them with some much needed activity.

Tony Armstrong, chief executive of Living Streets which runs the campaign, says: 'For many parents it's a convenience issue relating to the perceived distance and time.

'Everyone leads incredibly busy lives these days and mornings are hectic so some parents think they haven't got the luxury of time to walk.'

However, he points out that parents who do try the walk to school often admit they'd over-estimated the time it would take. He agrees with Laura when he says that the drive to school often takes much longer than perceived, after loading up the car with bags and kids is taken into account as well as traffic and parking.

It is not just a matter of time that has some parents reaching for their car keys come school time – the safety of their children is also a concern.

Poor crossing points, busy roads, speeding traffic and the risk of abduction are all paramount in parents' minds if they let their children walk to school instead of strapping them safely into the back of a car and ferrying them to the school gate.

School authorities have also castigated parents when they let their children walk or cycle to school on their own.

'The walk to school is reasonably safe and it teaches Evie road awareness as she learns to stop, look and listen to make sure there are no cars coming before she crosses the road,' says Laura.

'I used to walk to school on my own when I was six years old, but I would never let Evie or Josh walk to school on their own, well not until they are in high school anyway. Times have changed and even the school will not let children leave the premises unless a parent or a nominated member of the family comes to pick them up. Even then you need to sign a book with the names of the people who can pick up your child as the school needs to be sure that the person is who they say they are.'

How old your child should be before they can walk to school independently is a contentious issue. Tony Armstrong from Living Streets is often asked this question and it's a question that is met with a vague reply.

'Our view is that we can't give an answer because it is down to individual circumstances,' says Tony. 'Parents know their kids better than anyone and know how safe the school trip is going to be.

'It maybe appropriate for a seven-year-old to walk a short distance on their own and it may not be. It depends on how mature the child is, how safe the streets are and how long the walk is.'

Oblivious to the issues surrounding her journey to school, Evie is excited about her daily walk: 'Sometimes I walk and sometimes I cycle or scoot,' says Evie. 'I love walking to school!'