We're facing some big challenges nowadays in terms of young people's health and activity levels. One in three children leaves primary school either overweight or obese and the majority of children are not meeting the minimum daily recommendation of exercising for 60 minutes. But there is good news. In the last Budget the Government announced £1 billion more funds for schools to spend on sports and healthy living programmes starting in September. This is paid for by the new 'sugar tax' on drinks. The UK Government has also set a target to raise the proportion of children walking to primary school to 55%.
Living Streets is especially pleased to hear that the funds can be used for active travel initiatives such as walking to school. Despite the benefits - increased energy levels, improved concentration and cleaner air - less than half of children are walking to school compared to 70 per cent of children a generation ago. In just 20 years we've effectively been engineering walking out of our lives. There are many reasons for this; streets being designed more and more around the motor vehicle, more people using cars, technology taking our focus away from the outdoors and catchment areas expanding. But we can all still walk our short, everyday journeys and bring walking back into our daily routines. This is something we've been celebrating during Walk to School Week (15-21 May) with thousands of children around the country.
We all know that there's increased pressure on the school curriculum and budgets. So the opportunity to encourage children and their parents to walk to school is an ideal way to factor simple exercise into the day without taking time away from other subjects. Living Streets' WOW initiative is our year-round walk to school challenge. It encourages children to walk, cycle or scoot to school at least once a week. Regular walkers are recognised with a monthly badge, each one made from recycled yoghurt-pot material, and designed by children in an annual design competition. We help parents and children understand the benefits of walking and keeping active. Schools can also receive curriculum-led learning resources which support the badge theme. This year the theme is My Neighbourhood. Pupils record their daily journeys on our interactive tool called Travel Tracker. Travel Tracker is an easy to use, comprehensive method of gaining valuable insight into school travel habits.
Rachael is Deputy Head at West Denton Primary School in Tyne and Wear, a school which has been taking part in WOW for several years and has experienced the benefits of pupils walking more. Rachael says:
"We're always encouraging children to be active and by walking to school at least once a week with WOW this really works with our ethos. The children really enjoy using the Travel Tracker tool and it's an easy way of extracting data on how the children travel to school."
Beyond the thrill of a challenge, walking to school builds life-long healthy habits and the benefits are felt for years. Reconnecting children with nature and the area they live in, spending time exploring and chatting with their parents, guardians and friends should be a part of everyone's life no matter what background they come from. Walking is inclusive, affordable and fun.
It's our aim to encourage every child who can, to walk to school so that everyone can experience the benefits walking brings. We know that school budgets are stretched but with the expansion of the Sport Premium, headteachers and their staff can decide to invest in active travel initiatives like WOW. It doesn't cost much - just £1.50 per pupil per year. We've heard so many positive outcomes from participating schools and with the increase in funding we hope to welcome many more schools to WOW in the coming years. A nation fit for walking is beneficial to everyone. Safer roads, cleaner air and children arriving fit, refreshed and ready to learn.