Two major health promotion organisations have joined Scotland’s Active Nation Commissioner, Lee Craigie and Scottish Active Travel organisations in calling for parents to rethink the school run, as pupils return to the classrooms after a five-month absence next week.

Sustrans, Cycling Scotland, Living Streets, Paths for All, and Forth Environment Link are urging for parents across the country to leave their cars at home when accompanying their children to school, and to walk, cycle or scoot instead.

20mph limits

Their call is supported by Scotland’s Active Nation Commissioner, Lee Craigie and by the Royal College for Paediatrics & Child Health Scotland and the British Lung Foundation.

With many people still working from home, daily commute travel patterns are likely to have changed.

And the charities are asking parents to use the chance to make a positive change, by encouraging their children to travel to school in greener healthier ways.

Sustrans Scotland Head of Behaviour Change Lynn Stocks said:

“Over the past five months, many children have learned to ride bikes, many people have discovered their local area on foot.

“After months of break from routine, the journey to school is a chance to get a bit of regular daily exercise for both children and their guardians. And, for parents who may still be working from home, the walk or cycle to school and back offers a chance to start the working day with some exercise.

“This is a chance to make a positive change to the way our children travel to school, to make it safer and healthier for everyone.  We’re urging families to leave the car and make the school run fun with walking, cycling and scootering."

The call follows on from the publication of the annual Hands Up Scotland Survey in June, which found that the pupils being driven to school was at their highest recorded level in 2019.

The charities also point to the fact that it will still be necessary to keep social distancing between adults at school gates, so people are urged to leave the car at home to avoid crowding.

Air pollution near schools is a particular cause of concern, especially for respiratory health.

The Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health, which represents medical professionals promoting children’s health, has been a leading voice in the call for children to return to school as soon as it is safe to do so.

Lee Craigie, Active Nation Commissioner, Scotland said

“We are all driven to protect the people we love. We are also hard wired to save ourselves time and effort. But driving our kids to schools is one of the most dangerous false economies we invent. By removing the simple daily pleasure of walking, cycling or wheeling to school, we miss the opportunity to instil in our kids patterns of everyday active behaviour that will improve and prolong their lives. Who doesn't want that for the people they love?"

Joseph Carter, Head of Asthma UK & British Lung Foundation Scotland, said:

‘We welcome the call for more active travel on the commute to school in Scotland.  In our recent survey we found 73% of people agree that schools in Scotland should have more power to reduce the number of cars outside its gates. Not only is active travel great for keeping our children fit and healthy, but the reducing car travel and idling near school grounds would greatly reduce children's exposure to pollution that could cause conditions like asthma.’

“Measures like School Streets – where traffic outside schools is restricted at drop-off and pick-up - are already in place in many parts of Scotland, creating safer streets and cleaner air around the school gates. We urge schools and local authorities to consider implementing these kinds of measures to prioritise space for people, not cars, and allow space to physically distance at the start and end of the day.”

Stuart Hay, Director Living Streets Scotland

Stuart Hay, Director Living Streets Scotland said:

“Children and families often want to walk to school and will do so where the streets feel safe and pleasant, and not dominated by cars. Now, as schools begin to return for the new term, we have an opportunity to make walking to school the natural choice for families across Scotland.

“Measures like School Streets – where traffic outside schools is restricted at drop-off and pick-up - are already in place in many parts of Scotland, creating safer streets and cleaner air around the school gates. We urge schools and local authorities to consider implementing these kinds of measures to prioritise space for people, not cars, and allow space to physically distance at the start and end of the day.”

Ian Findlay, Chief Officer at Paths for All said:

"The benefits to children of walking, cycling or wheeling to school are huge. Being active not only improves their health and fitness, it is good for children socially and mentally too. It improves their concentration and learning, makes them feel good and builds confidence and social skills - all things essential to the school day ahead.

"Covid-19 has changed family routines and many children won't have exercised as much as usual, without summer clubs and organised sport for the last four months. Using the journey to school to increase activity levels will help our children to flourish."