'Active travel' among Scottish school pupils hits record low

The number of children walking, cycling, scootering, or skating to school in Scotland has fallen to an all time low.
The number of children walking, cycling, scootering, or skating to school in Scotland has fallen to an all time low.
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The proportion of primary and secondary pupils who take active travel modes to school has fallen to its lowest level since records began, according to a new nationwide survey.

Only 48.7 per cent of children said they walk, cycle, scooter, or skate to classes, a 0.1 per cent decline on the previous year, and the lowest figure since the Hands Up Scotland survey began in 2008.

The annual snapshot of how more than half a million Scottish children get to school and nursery also found 116,221 were driven in a private car or taxi, accounting for nearly a quarter (24.8 per cent) of the total, the highest level since 2009, and a 0.3 per cent rise on the previous 12 months.

While the number of children who cycle to classes also reached an all time high, with 17,738 getting on their saddles, the group accounts for just 3.8 per cent of pupils across the country.

Obesity campaigners said parents had to take greater responsibility to ensure their children maintain active lifestyles, and called on schools to incentivise youngsters to walk or cycle to school.

The survey, carried out by Sustrans Scotland in partnership with all 32 Scottish local authorities, shows that 198,980 pupils (42.5 per cent) said they normally walk to school.

That marks a slight rise on the record low of 42.3 per cent recorded in 2017, but remains well below the 48.3 per cent of pupils who said they walked to school in 2008.

Overall, the proportion of pupils taking a bus to school has decreased from 18.2 per cent in 2008 to 16.2 per cent in 2018, which is another record low.

However, the percentage of pupils normally travelling to school by park and stride - where they are driven part of the way, and walk the remainder of the journey - has increased from 6.1 per cent in 2008 to a high of 9.8 per cent last year.

The survey also found that pupils in state schools reported higher active travel levels (49.1 per cent) compared to independent school pupils (16.2 per cent), nearly half of whom (46.9 per cent) were driven to school.

Tam Fry, chair of the National Obesity Forum, said: "Parents are responsible for ensuring their children carry out one hour of brisk activity every day, and the majority of that can be done by walking or cycling to school.

"We have seen the success of initiatives like walking trains which make the activity fun and communal, and I would like to see children incentivised via badges or reward schemes. You would find that makes a tremendous difference to their health."

John Lauder, national director of Sustrans Scotland, said: “It’s encouraging to see that cycling and park and stride numbers continue to increase. Research has shown that increased physical activity can help children lead happier, healthier lives, while contributing to lowering pollution around their school gates.

“We need to continue to monitor the reduction in bus use, and seek to identify ways that active travel can be a viable alternative, rather than the private car.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: "We note the publication and remain confident that the Scottish Government’s recent investment will lead to an increase in the number of children walking or cycling to school in the coming years.

“While overall numbers have remained relatively stable, there are positive signs, including the fact that cycling rates are now at the highest level. We continue to fund local authorities directly through the Cycling, Walking and Safer Streets Grant, which this year is £8.9m.”