90% of parents who walk to school tell us how important this time is for spending quality time with their children. Over a third tell us that the journey to school is where they find out the most about their child’s life.
Why walk to school?
It'll save you money. Walking to school instead of driving saves, on average, £400 per year.
It's educational. Walking to school can help your child build independence, road safety and social skills. In a study by Living Streets, 84 per cent of the children who walked to school often meet up with classmates on the way to school.
It's healthy. Children need at least 60 minutes (1 hour) of physical activity every day. The journey to and from school is an ideal time for children to be active.
It's better for the environment. One person switching five journeys of fewer than 2 km a week from the car to walking would reduce their carbon footprint by 86 kg a year.
Download our factsheet for parents and carers.
Run Walk Once a Week (WoW) at home!
A great way to encourage your children to walk is with our WoW scheme, which rewards children for walking with collectable badges. You can order our brand new ‘Parents Pack’ online, for a whole year's worth of badges and a wall-chart to record your child's walking at home.
Find out more with our Frequently Asked Questions about walking to school below. Or download our Walk to School parents' guide.
There are no laws around age or distance of walking to school. The Family and Parenting Institute's publication Is it legal? A families' guide to the law states:
“There is no law prohibiting children from being out on their own at any age. It is a matter of judgement for parents to decide when children can play out on their own, walk to the shops or school."
Some councils offer guidance on what age they think children can travel independently. Schools also often have their own policy outlining their expectations. Parents are legally obliged to ensure their children get to school, but this in itself does not disallow independent travel.
Living Streets' position is that there is no set age when a child is ready to walk to school independently. Assess any risks associated with the route and your child’s confidence. Work with your children to build up their independence while walking to school through route finding, road safety skills and general awareness.
There are lots of ways you can prepare your child to make an independent journey. Children who are driven to school do not have the opportunity to develop road awareness and are therefore more vulnerable when they start to walk to school independently. Walking to school is a great opportunity to learn road safety skills.
But it’s not just the commute to school which can give a child independence and the ability to access risk. The number of children allowed out to play on the streets around their homes has seen a sharp decline. Our report No Ball Games shows how things have changed on our streets across three generations, turning our streets from happy hubs for the community, to no go areas for children.
During Walk to School Week 2010, we partnered with charity Parentline Plus to explore the perceived barriers that prevent parents from allowing their children to walk to school. Parents’ fears included the fear of traffic and stranger danger, with only a small percentage concerned about the level of physical activity of their children.
We don’t recommend a set distance for walking to school. We believe it's a decision to be made between you and your child.
We suggest that most children of school age should be able to walk 20 minutes (which is around one mile) to and from school. The average distance to primary school is under one and a half miles.
If you live a long distance away, you can park and stride, or if you find 20 minutes a struggle, you and your child could start with a five minute walk and then build up gradually!
The criteria for free home to school transport from the Directgov website is:
* two miles for pupils aged under eight
* three miles for those aged eight and over.
It is normal for parents to worry about road safety. Remember all children will start making independent journeys at some point in their life, so it's key that they feel confident about walking and staying safe on the roads.
The best way to do this is to walk with your children from a young age, teaching them about crossing the road, learning how to navigate and a host of other skills. This helps them gain the experience and confidence to deal with traffic and wayfinding on their own, in preparation for joining secondary school and walking with friends when they are older.
Since the 1970s there has been a steady downward trend in numbers of children killed or seriously injured. In 2007 the Department for Transport published its Road Safety Strategy, aiming to half the number of children killed or seriously injured compared to a 1994-8 baseline. At present, this target has largely been met and this would suggest that the risk of children being involved in a serious accident is reducing.
More detailed information and statistics can be found in the Living Streets and Parentline Plus report.
Rural roads have disproportionately high casualty rates so are more dangerous to pedestrians. This is often because many don’t have footways or crossings and traffic is faster. It's up to you and your child as to whether you think it's safe to walk to school. Your council should be able to give you more comprehensive information and advice. You could ask them what speed management strategies they are developing for rural roads. Does their Community Strategy include a strategy on speed reduction?
If you feel a crossing would make the journey to school safer, talk to your council's school travel team or road safety team. You could also campaign for a crossing by writing to a local councillor or MP. You could also try to get local media attention. Why not get your local school on board, start a petition or organise a meeting with other parents or local community members?
Living Streets is all about creating safe, attractive and enjoyable streets for everyone to enjoy. If you're not happy with your street, or route to school, why not campaign to improve it?
It's important for children (and parents!) to exercise throughout the year, so with the right equipment, such as raincoats, wellies or waterproof shoes and a bit of preparation, the weather shouldn’t be too much of a barrier.
The risk of a child being abducted by a stranger is very low. The number of children abducted has decreased over the last ten years. It’s a hard message, but the truth is we can do our children’s long-term health and well-being more harm by protecting them from the real world. For more information, read the Living Streets and Parentline Plus Walk to School report.
We suggest that you either walk with your child or you can always encourage them to walk with other children who live close by or on the way to school.
Who's responsible? As a parent, you're responsible for ensuring children get to school on time and attend regularly. Most schools will have their own individual policy outlining where their responsibility for your child’s safety begins/ends (often, this is at the school gate in school hours only). Schools are only responsible for safety on the school journey where they have specifically arranged transport. A school does have an obligation to alert relevant authorities if they believe a child’s welfare is at risk.
We know that for many parents getting their children to school and themselves to work can be a real headache. Sometimes parents feel they just don’t have the time to walk with their children to school.
But we've found that parents often don’t realise just how long the school run takes in the car, especially when you allow for traffic jams and parking hassle. We also know that people often overestimate the time it takes to walk and underestimate the time it takes to drive. You may well find that walking takes no longer than driving, so why not give it a go?
For some families, it really is too far to walk to school every day. If you live more than a 30 minute walk from school, you could try the park and stride approach. This involves parking a 15 minute (or more) walk away from the school gate and walking the last stint with your child. It'll save you time trying to find a parking space and reduces congestion near the school. If other parents from the school sound interested, why not approach a local pub or community centre, and see if they’ll allow you to use their car park?
If you have children at more than one school or you feel you can’t fit walking into all the school journeys, a good solution could be to get in touch with other parents whose children are at the same school and take it in turns to walk. Have a look at our walking schemes information for more ideas.
Partnering up with other parents may be an ideal solution. This means finding a friend or neighbour with children attending the same schools and arrange for you both to share the responsibility and walk to different schools on different days. Our information on Walk Together and walking buses may also help.