Walk or ride to school?

I had been wondering what had happened to the data on journeys to school that the DfE has produced at various times in the past. Thanks to a recent parliamentary question I now know the information is included in the Department for Transport’s travel survey. Their latest report on 2015 can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/551437/national-travel-survey-2015.pdf This not the reference cited in the PQ, and Hansard should note that the link in the PQ doesn’t appear to work.

Perhaps the least surprising finding is that fewer older children walk to school. The survey found 48% of 5-10 years olds, compared with 37% of 11-16 year olds, walked to school. However, for journeys of under one mile only 78% of 5-10s walked compared with 87% of 11-16s, so the overall figure may reflect the longer journeys faced by some secondary age pupils, especially in rural areas. In both age groups the percentage walking had declined between 1995/97 and 2015 with, perhaps inevitably, more car journeys taking the place of walking. This may partly be the exercise of parental choice leading to the selection of schools further away from home and partly an anxiety about safety. Indeed, journey distances to education setting have increased by 15% between 1995/97 and 2015. Journey times as a result have also increased by an average of 21 minutes.

The survey also found 59% of 7-13 year olds that walk to school are usually accompanied by an adult. That would have been unthinkable 60 years ago when I started at secondary school. The main reason cited for accompanying a child is the issue of traffic danger. Sadly, apart from accompanying children to school, walking seems to become a less common activity as people become older.

There appears to have been a small increase between the two surveys in journeys by ‘other’ means that include rail and cycling. These ‘other’ forms of transport play a larger part in the journeys of secondary school pupils compared with primary school pupils. I have a secondary school in my councillor division that has a significant number of pupils that cycle to school: indeed, it may have more than any other school in the country, As a result, I am delighted to see any trend back towards cycling.

However, since the unweighted sample since in 2015 was 2,941 made up of 1,475 primary and 1,466 secondary age pupils the outcomes depend heavily on the statisticians have created a valid and reliable sample of the school population. There is some risk of error in the less common forms of transport with, for instance, cycling accounting for 4% in 2009 but only 1% in 2013.

However, as noted earlier, the main trend appears to be for walking to be replaced by a ride in a car to school. This isn’t a healthy trend for either the children concerned or for the air quality around schools where parents drive-up to drop their offspring off in large numbers. The notes to the survey do acknowledge the risk of sampling error.




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