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Best foot forward

Junior school children leaving school

I love Walk to School Week. It’s the one goody two shoes project I can tick off without any effort whatsoever. We’re lucky as we live within spitting distance of six schools – two primary and four secondary – none of which is more than a ten-minute walk away. Consequently for the last ten years all four of the kids have walked to school and three still do.

Apparently we are now in the minority. According to Living Streets, only 48% of primary school children now walk to school compared with 53% in 1995-7. That’s despite 48% of children living within a mile of their school and 75% within two miles. The figures for secondary school children are even lower, with 38% travelling by foot compared with 42% in 1995-7.

Concerns about safety are often cited as the main reason why parents are reluctant to let their offspring make the walk on their own. But I think we need to dispel this myth that driving to school is somehow safer than walking. It isn’t. From what I’ve seen outside some schools (naming no names, but you know who you are as you’re usually in the papers), children are far more likely to be knocked over dashing out of the back of their mum’s car than they are to be run over sauntering along the pavement on foot.

When I was growing up, as Living Streets pointed out, the majority of children (81%) walked to school. That wasn’t because they thought it was the healthy option – it was because it was the only option. Fewer people had cars and even though fewer mothers worked, they did not see their children’s lives as the centre of their own universe in the same way that so many parents do today. My sister and I walked to school on our own from the ages of seven and eight (cue Hovis music) not because my mum thought it would protect us from obesity, but because there was no school bus, we didn’t have a car and she was damned if she was going to make the journey four times a day when we were perfectly safe to do it on our own. She walked us as far as the main road in the morning then arranged for the newsagent opposite, Mr O’Hea, to see us across the road on the way home.

It worked fine, and apart from seeing me across the road every day, I thank Mr O’Hea for introducing me to a lifelong magazine habit thanks to imported copies of June and School Friend, Jackie and Bunty.

I don’t have a Mr O’Hea, but I do have the modern British equivalent.  Our newsagent, Nila, doesn’t see the little ones across the road but she does make a brilliant tracking device. If Jack’s late home and not answering his phone a quick trip to the newsagent’s will reveal that yes, he popped in ten minutes ago for a bag of prawn cocktail crisps and was last seen heading in the direction of Leo’s house…

What do you think? Do/did your children walk? Were there difficulties in distance that meant walking wasn’t an option? Let me know your thoughts.

Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn

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