A call to strengthen efforts to change the way children travel to and from school has come from County Councillors on Buckinghamshire's Transport, Environment and Communities Select Committee today (Tuesday March 21).
Following a two month inquiry into the use of cars for the school commute, and alternative healthier options for parents and carers, the Committee says more needs to be done to support active, alternative modes of transport.
While they celebrated the fact that Buckinghamshire's school travel planning is among the best in the country, and 162 schools are involved in active sustainable school travel work, Select Committee members said car use for school travel had remained at 30% and 101 schools didn't see it as their job to promote active travel.
Select Committee Chairman David Carroll (pictured) said with planned housing growth, school expansion and new school building, congestion and parking around roads serving schools risked getting worse.
"We found we were pushing at an open door with schools we interviewed," said David. "They see active sustainable travel to and from school as a vital part of the curriculum, yet they need support from County Hall.
"This kind of mode shift away from cars has huge benefits for children's health, the environment and safety, and for reducing congestion."
The Select Committee inquiry spoke to community groups, schools and Junior Road Safety Officers, and held an all-day evidence gathering session with council officers and national experts.
It heard evidence of the wider benefits of active travel: nationally, if councils reduced inactivity levels by one per cent for five-year-olds, local taxpayers would save £44 per household.
Physical inactivity is estimated to cost Buckinghamshire around £84.5 million a year. Currently 32% of boys and 48% of girls aged 5-15 are inactive, and only 14.1% of 15-year-olds achieve the recommended level of daily activity.
"We're sure the school commute can build in physical activity that will improve alertness, concentration and learning," said David. "And our evidence shows that active young people get between 10% and 20% better GCSE results."
The Select Committee is recommending the County Council to:
• Explore the wider benefits of investing in sustainable school travel and be clear about its vision.
• Increase the budget and take a longer-term view of staffing to achieve the vision.
• Campaign to highlight schools' responsibilities to promote active travel to and from school, and to use County Council resources already available.
• Promote health and educational benefits of active travel.
• Create and maintain safe routes to schools, and prioritise clearance of overgrown vegetation.
• Resource County Councillors to be active advocates for active travel to support their local schools.
David said: "It's not that we're bad at this. We lead the way nationally in our school travel planning and sustainable travel planning work with schools - three ticks, smiley face and go to the top of the class!
"But in encouraging a stronger approach, the Select Committee is echoing those familiar words of school teachers through the ages: could do better!"