09/02/2016 11:47 GMT | Updated 09/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Why Has the School Run Become Controversial?

In the past week there has been a spate of news stories related to walking to school. From harmful air quality, to traffic congestion and dangerous parking outside school gates, the school run has become a contentious issue.

At Living Streets, one of our biggest campaigns is focused on getting more children to walk to school. We believe that the more children walking, the better the school run experience is for everybody.

In the 1970s, when many of today's parents were schoolchildren, 70 per cent walked to school. Today just 46 per cent do so. Something needs to change to reverse this decline. The Government has proposed an ambition for 55 per cent of primary school-age children to walk to school by 2025; we need to keep urging that this target isn't forgotten.

For years we've been speaking to parents about the reasons why they're put off walking their children to school. There are the obvious answers: distance, time pressures, children at multiple schools; the list goes on. But one of the most worrying for parents, and for us, is the experience had by all outside of the school gates.

Almost half of parents we surveyed via YouGov in 2015 said that they've experienced aggression outside their child's school. A huge 80 per cent said that schemes to make the walk to school safer, like park and stride and 20mph should be a priority for the Government, and 86 per cent thought parking enforcements should be brought in.

This relates to last week's news about parents in Havering being fined or even getting a criminal record, should they park irresponsibly outside the school gates - it shows how big the problem already is for schools. We know it's hard for a lot of parents but we also know there are solutions. For example, Park and Stride systems allow children to at least walk some of the way, contributing to their daily activity levels, and reduce congestion around the school gates. These options need to be explored or the situation is likely to get worse.

There are more cars on our roads than ever before and a massive 23 per cent of peak time traffic is made up of those on the school run. More children walking would help to reduce the congestion and bad air quality this causes.

This week a school in Lancashire began urging parents to walk their children to school because dangerous parking outside the school is getting worse. It's becoming a familiar story.

But this isn't just about road safety. Although that is incredibly important, there is an even bigger picture here. One in three children is leaving school overweight or obese and this isn't solely down to sugar. Suddenly the spotlight is fixed on children's diets and although this is undoubtedly half of the problem, inactivity is the other. Over two thirds of children aren't getting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity recommended by the Chief Medical Officer each day.

Put all these together and you can see we have something of a crisis on our hands; children's safety should be paramount.

Walking is a free, easy and accessible way for children to get some physical activity into their daily routine. It's good for their physical health but walking has also been shown to reduce the risk of developing depression, can lower feelings of stress and improve concentration in class.

Living Streets runs a national Walk to School Week from 16 - 22 May to encourage schools to take a first step. We also offer schools a programme called Walk once a Week (WoW) which incentivises children to walk to or from school once a week. If they do, they win one special badge a month. In the schools we work, we typically see a 23 per cent increase in the number of children walking to school.

On Monday, the Guardian raised the issue of air pollution and the impact that has on children's health.

"The public health message is, you can't hide from air pollution inside a car," says Ben Barratt, an air quality expert at King's College London (KCL). "We advise the public to leave the car at home whenever possible. This exposes you and your family to lower levels of air pollution, you're not contributing to the problem, and you're also getting the benefits of exercise. That's tackling three of our biggest public health challenges in one go: air quality, climate change and obesity."

In conclusion - the time for creating a new generation of walkers is now.