Active travel is broadly any form of getting about that involves physical exertion. From simply walking through to cycling or roller skating, it stands in contrast to travel by car, train or bus. There are numerous benefits to its wider adoption, including macro social benefits such as reduced air and noise pollution. However, it’s also an effective way for schools, in partnership with parents and local governance, to improve physical activity levels among pupils.

Benefits for pupils

There are direct positives for the physical and mental wellbeing of children who actively travel to school. Not only do they contribute significantly to their level of physical activity, but walking and cycling are linked to improved mood and concentration. Recent research directly links active commuting with positive wellbeing. For younger pupils, it’s an opportunity to feel more independent and self-reliant and is also an easy way to socialise with their peers.

Benefits for schools

The burden to deliver the majority, or even entirety, of physical activity directly is eased when pupils are actively travelling to school. It’s also easier to encourage them in to other forms of activity when it’s already a part of their everyday routine, underpinning a physically active school culture alongside more formal provision. Staff benefit from pupils demonstrating better behaviour and higher levels of concentration, as well as a reduction in the stress of busy drop-off and pick-up times with heavy levels of local vehicle traffic.

Benefits for local communities

Traffic levels are heavily affected by the “school run”, with a resultant impact on levels of air and noise pollution as well as road safety concentrated around schools. By taking a proactive and encouraging approach to active travel, these problems can be significantly curtailed, improving the quality of life for local residents. Similarly, parents will be less burdened by the cost and stress of dropping children off to school by car. They may even be able to join their children on their active trip to school as part of their own daily activity routine.

Next steps for schools

The joy of active travel is it is entirely free and requires very little of the school, but there are ways in which it can be encouraged and supported to ensure maximum take-up. It’s worth surveying pupil and parent attitudes about pupils walking or cycling to school – what proportion currently engage in regular active travel, what concerns are preventing greater participation, and what the school might do to address these apprehensions.

Publish and share materials with pupils and parents outlining the benefits of active travel, how to commute to and from school safely, what routes are advisable, and any other information that would help or encourage. Consider if there are any changes to school facilities or routine that are required to enable active travel – bicycle racks, access to changing rooms, secure storage or drying areas, staff supervision, or training courses the school could facilitate.

Beyond this, it’s also possible to engage with local governance for help in finding ways to make walking and cycling routes to the school safer, or potentially creating much broader no drop-off zones to minimise traffic concentration. This is an area of concern for government and it may be possible to make some long-term changes to surrounding infrastructure that make a powerful difference to the active travel culture at your school.

For more information on active travel, read Public Health England’s report ‘Working Together to Promote Active Travel.

To find out more about ways your school can engage with the potential of active travel, see Living Streets’ Walk to School campaign and resources, as well as Bikeability’s Tools for Schools.