Walking back to school
Posted: Wed, 25 Nov 2020 16:02
Active Oxfordshire has been working with Oxfordshire County Council to deliver WOW – the year-round walk to school challenge from Living Streets.
Schools in Oxfordshire have had an amazing increase in children travelling to school by foot, bike or scooter, with 4 in every 10 car journeys within participating schools being swapped for more active travel options in the academic year 2019/20. Bucking the trend of many initiatives, the greatest benefits have been seen in areas of deprivation.
And so, as the new school year started in September 2020, Active Oxfordshire was keen to continue its great work to help more families stay healthy and happy – and at Living Streets, we were very happy to have them.
What is WOW?
WOW is an award-winning walk to school challenge run by us at Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking. Pupils record how they travel to school each day on our interactive Travel Tracker. Pupils who walk, cycle, scoot or 'Park and Stride' to school at least once a week are rewarded with collectable badges each month, designed by pupils in a UK-wide competition – it's that simple!
On average, schools which take part in WOW see a 23 per cent increase in the number of children walking to school and a 30 per cent reduction in cars driving up to the school gates. For schools in Oxfordshire, the results have been even higher.
Before starting WOW, 31% of pupils at participating Oxfordshire schools were driven. 18 months later and this was down to 11% with 88% of journeys being recorded as active. The reduction in car journeys contributed to fewer toxic emissions outside school gates, improving air quality for pupils and local communities – along with a host of other benefits.
WOW in Oxfordshire
A fifth (18.7%) of Oxfordshire's Reception-aged children are overweight or obese, rising to nearly a third (29.6) by Year 6. The figures are significantly higher for BAME children and those living in deprived areas. Oxfordshire also faces nationwide challenges: high levels of childhood inactivity, toxic air pollution levels and road danger.
Rather than tackle public health priorities in silo, the council took a collaborative approach across directorates and partners, including Active Oxfordshire, to seek one solution to each of their challenges. That's where WOW came in.
WOW has the potential to deliver public health outcomes – from reducing inactivity levels, tackling childhood obesity and enhancing mental wellbeing to improving air quality levels - fitting into a whole systems approach to healthy weight and healthy place shaping.
Building on the success they've enjoyed so far, Active Oxfordshire and Oxfordshire Council Council have gone on to develop a specific offer for a number of schools who needed support in achieving physical activity levels for their pupils and spoke with other schools who wanted to restrict traffic outside school gates.
Data from the WOW Travel Tracker, coupled with the visible reduction in cars, has been fundamental in garnering political and community support for such proposals.
Running WOW in a pandemic
At Living Streets, we believe that every child should be able to walk to school safely, and enjoy the fresh air, freedom, friendship and fun that it brings. As traffic returns to pre-Covid levels, the Government is supporting people to walk and cycle more of their shorter journeys – including the walk to school.
More families walking to school means fewer cars around the school gates, helping to tackle congestion, air pollution and problem parking, whilst freeing up space to allow families to physically distance at the school gates.
It's never been more important to stay active and healthy. WOW is an easy-to-run scheme and can help achieve just that – as schools in Oxfordshire are showing.
To find out more about WOW and how your school can benefit from safer streets and healthier and happier pupils, contact Rosie.Swanson@livingstreets.org.uk