Creating the Next Generation Active

This article is a synopsis of a presentation by Pamela Gidney & Gary Cummins at the Walking, Cycling, Connecting Communities Active Travel conference on 30 May 2018.

Wallet, phone, bags, lunch, keys, kids – check!  This is the final mental checklist running through the minds of many parents as they head out the door for another day of work and school.

The keys are often for the house AND car with children dropped off at the school gate.  For others though, the keys are to a garage for a bike or scooter or just house keys – the journey to the school gate taking place on two feet allowing for a little quality conversation time.

The latest Hands Up Survey results for Scotland published in 2017 reported that over 49% of pupils travel actively to school.  Whilst positive, this figure has plateaued in recent years with some drop-off at an individual modal level.  However, with the recent announcement by the Scottish Government that investment in active travel has been doubled, a new National Transport Strategy in preparation and the promise of an Active Nation Commissioner, the opportunities have never been greater to get more pupils walking, cycling and scooting to school.

"Build it and they will come" still rings true, but until many more people do, there remains the need to understand the factors that influence travel choices and develop measures that will raise awareness and encourage a change, thus maximising the value of investment made in infrastructure and routes.   It is also widely recognised that there is a need to start young and instill a desire to travel sustainably from the early years.  

SYSTRA, with partners Sustrans and Wellside Research, were commissioned by the Scottish Government to gather the latest evidence on school transport choices and approaches which have been most effective in influencing school run behaviour.  The ‘Tackling the School Run’ study concluded that there is no single solution to achieving high levels of sustainable travel in schools, but rather, a combination of key elements appears to be important, as highlighted below:

  • Provision of infrastructure to facilitate sustainable and active travel choices;
  • Strong and solid delivery of training to allow safe use of the infrastructure;
  • Regular and ongoing reinforcement of initiatives to encourage behaviour change, complemented by periodic events and/or competitions to maintain interest along with incentivisation/reward; and
  • Achieving buy-in from the whole school community and external parties, and integrating active and sustainable travel fully into the school ethos and culture.  

The full report can be read here http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2017/01/8442/0

Schools-based initiatives do work.  However in a world of competing time, budgets and increasing demands on the school day it is key that programmes are relevant and linked to to the classroom alongside wider resource and budget commitments.   Our own experience of working with hundreds of schools and thousands of pupils to promote active travel choices has taught us that delivery needs to captivate children, staff and parents/carers if change is to be realised.

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