Parent and two children walking

At Living Streets, we’ve been running our walk to school campaign for over 20 years. However, this is the first year we've ever had to kick off a new academic year of WOW - our walk to school challenge - during a pandemic.

With one half term down, Jane Rickwood, who heads up our Department for Transport funded Walk to School Outreach project, looks at how some of our WOW schools are adapting.

Jane Rickwood

Like me, you’re probably tired of hearing ‘now more than ever’, but when it comes to reducing car journeys and getting more children walking to school there really hasn’t been a more important time to:

✅ Increase children’s physical activity so they can be healthier and happier.

✅ Create space around school gates to allow for families to practise physical distancing.

✅ Reduce air pollution to protect the lung health of our children and communities. 

We know schools are faced with mounting lists of priorities and that encouraging children to choose healthier ways to travel to school might not make that list.

Our Walk to School Outreach team spoke to school staff to find out how - and why - they’re making WOW work for them during the pandemic and the benefits they're seeing.

“WOW has brought some normality back to school life”

With so much change and uncertainty surrounding us, WOW is a good way to bring a bit of routine to children’s days. Louise Vose, the headteacher at St Mary and St John’s Catholic Primary School in Wigan said it has “brought some normality back to school life in these different times.”

In fact, the resounding message we got from school staff we spoke to was that their pupils’ wellbeing was benefitting from WOW. From families being able to enjoy an extra 5-10 minutes of quality time together on the walk, to children simply loving the excitement of collecting their WOW badges and learning about the different themes behind the designs.

Mark Chadwick from St Mary’s RC Primary School in Salford said that during the current environment, more children are walking to school as “parents find that having their own fresh air experience helps with their mental wellbeing and the children’s”.

Whilst Craig Vickers from The Valley Community Primary School in Bolton summed it up perfectly when he said: “The importance of Mental Health and Wellbeing is uppermost on our agenda. And what better way to celebrate being healthy and enjoy being outside than walking to school?”

Children WOW badges

“It’s reduced traffic around the school gates”

There are multiple benefits on offer from having fewer cars around our school gates. It makes streets feel safer so more families feel comfortable choosing healthier ways to travel. It takes away the risk of speeding vehicles and dangerous parking. And it helps to reduce the air pollution that lingers around our schools, long after the vehicles have left.

It’s not always possible for families to walk the whole way, but many of our schools are benefitting from introducing Park and Stride schemes. These allow families to park a short distance away and walk the rest of their journey.

Mr Lucas from St Richard’s RC Primary School in Wigan said that “a number of parents have agreed to allow their children to walk instead of a short drive, whilst others have arranged to drop their children off 10 minutes away so they can walk from there.”

Whilst Megan Thomas from St John’s CofE Primary School in Salford said a high number of parents who do need to use a car have now opted to Park and Stride, which is helping to reduce traffic around the school gates.

girl with wow badges

Something we consider important is teaching children road safety and this is a skill that they will rehearse daily if they are walking to school. If good road skills have been instilled throughout their time at primary school walking with their parents, then they will have a clear understanding of how to remain safe when walking alone.

Kate Charles, Headteacher, Stowlawn Primary School, Wolverhampton.

Reducing the number of cars around the school gates can have a positive impact on improving air quality. As well as being a teacher at R L Hughes Primary School in Wigan, Jennie Martin is also a parent there. She told us that she was motivated to sign up to WOW because as a parent and a local, she was "eager to reduce the traffic, pollution and congestion around the school.”

Whilst back at St Mary’s RC Primary School in Salford, Mark Chadwick told us how the school is “very passionate about Climate Change, Healthy Living, Sustainability and the mental wellbeing of our staff, children and families”. The school is “working hard at instilling the need for change with the children in the school and the WOW campaign has helped implement that.”

Clean air

"It's put the WOW into our morning”

One of the best things about WOW is how easy it can slot into the school day. Helen McDonald, the PE Coordinator at Springwood Junior Academy and Aughton Junior Academy in Sheffield City Region said setting up WOW was extremely easy and logging journeys has become “a daily activity that has fitted into our morning routine”. After just one month, 89% of pupils received a WOW badge – meaning a huge majority of pupils were walking, cycling, scooting or Park and Striding to school!

In many schools, the children’s enthusiasm is leading the way. Mr Mahsoom Hussain from Heathfield Primary School in Bolton said “the WOW programme has put the WOW into our morning. Children are desperate to share how they have travelled to school.”

Lots of schools assign a WOW monitor to be in charge of logging journeys on the WOW Travel Tracker. It allows pupils to enjoy the responsibility and takes the onus off staff.

Pupils’ passion for WOW ensures there is no chance of forgetting to log journeys. As Megan Thomas told us, “the children in my class love using the Travel Tracker to log their journeys. They remind me as soon as they come in on a morning and they love to see their progress.”

And the pester power of pupils doesn’t end there, it can be a very powerful tool when getting parents engaged. Whilst many schools promote that they’re doing WOW through social media and newsletters, it’s the pupils who hold the most power as they are so keen to collect all their WOW badges. St Mary’s RC Primary School has had pupils 'telling' their parents that they would like to walk to school.

That’s what we like to hear!

Child with Travel Tracker



Free WOW resources for schools

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