How pupils walking and cycling to school will change South Yorkshire for the better – Dame Sarah Storey
Class or year group bubbles, staggered break times, different start and finish times, not to mention additional hand-washing and sanitising – so much has changed to make sure everyone remains healthy.
And whilst school staff are taking responsibility for pupils’ safety during the school day, parents have a vital role to play in planning as stress-free a start to the day as possible.
As a mum of a seven-year-old and two-year-old I know how busy school mornings can be, but by planning ahead and being prepared to do things differently, the new school year also provides an opportunity to become fitter and healthier.
And we can start with the school run.
In pre-covid times, one in every four cars on the road at peak times was on the school run and we were facing a rarely mentioned inactivity crisis causing an increase in type two diabetes in school age children.
Children were also exposed to dangerous levels of polluted air, due to high levels of congestion around their school.
Very few people want this as their normal and we must act now to change it for the better.
As the new term begins it is really important the vast majority of people don’t plan to drive to school.
With schools introducing one-way entrance and exit points, socially distanced queuing systems and other measures to adhere to Covid guidelines, there won’t be enough space outside of schools for car parking as well.
Families who live within a 2km walk of their school, are recommended to make that journey on foot and for those within 5km of school – with access to safe cycling routes – take their bike.
A 20-minute stress-free walk or ride is likely to be quicker than driving, has more reliable journey times, and contributes to the physical and mental wellbeing of children.
For older, more independent children a longer walk of 30-40 minutes can help to get them ready for learning and keeps public or school transport available for those who really need it.
Across the UK more than half of children are not meeting the recommended level of 60-minutes of physical activity a day, with reports of activity levels dropping further during lockdown.
Children who walk or cycle to school are more likely to meet the recommended levels each day, something desperately needed when one in three children are obese by age 11.
There’s more than physical benefits too and for our family, the walk to school gives us time to chat and have some fun.
In a car, a child is less likely to talk about their day and with concerns about rising levels of anxiety in children as they adjust to a new way of learning, we need to provide opportunities for them to share their concerns and let off some steam.
One of my daughter’s favourite ways to liven up our school run is to hopscotch, which puts a smile on my face too!
To help parents plan their journey, schools should create a “walking bubble” around the school gates, to ensure that the final kilometre or so is as free from cars as possible.
Modeshift Stars has a free tool available online to help schools map a bubble, a great opportunity to ensure anyone who relies on their vehicle for a longer journey is able to park safely away from the school gates and walk the final part of their journey.
Any activity is better than none and parking that bit further away keeps the school gates free from danger.
I understand the current lack of safe cycling routes to school is frustrating and Mayor Jarvis and I are committed to making South Yorkshire a place where the natural choice for short journeys is to walk or cycle.
We have a plan to create more than 1,000km of safe active travel routes in the region.
This year has been incredibly hard and coronavirus has brought the nation’s health into the spotlight like never before.
Obesity and poor health means school age children are currently facing a lower life expectancy than their parents, but we have it in our gift to change things for the better and to create some good for the future.
Dame Sarah Storey is the Active Travel Commissioner for South Yorkshire and a record-breaking Paralympian champion.
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