With everyone talking about the increase in obesity amongst children, it’s not unusual to read articles about children no longer walking to school. Or comments on social media about parents driving their children right up to the school gates and clogging up the roads. But these seem to be getting more judgemental. And it’s winding me up. Because everyone is getting tarred with the same brush – that our children are all unhealthy because they don’t walk to school, and that the parents are lazy.
Not everyone’s reasons are the same. And we shouldn’t be judged (as so many things about being a parent are) for making a decision that isn’t the ‘perfect’ one.
I totally agree that there are some people who live within walking distance of the school, are capable of walking the distance and don’t work so have the time to do so. That is pretty lazy if they drive their child regularly to school. But most people who drive their children to school don’t for different reasons. For valid reasons.
Our childhood comparison
The good old (horrifyingly that’s between 25 to 36 years ago!) days.
When it was rare to have both parents out at work.
When about 95% of children when to their local school, within walking (or school bus) distance.
When parents were more relaxed about letting children do their own thing and gave them responsibility earlier.
At my first primary school we used to walk to school. When we moved house, we used to walk in infants, then when older, we used to catch the school bus which would come past our edge of village estate picking us up on the way. At secondary school we walked with friends the 1.5 miles from our edge of the village right to the other end. The only time we got a lift was when the weather was absolutely horrendous – 4 of us would get taken in together, or on orchestra day when I had that, plus wind band, a music lesson, and games all on the same day.
More mums work, whether full or part time.
The employment rate of mothers in England has increased by 11.8 percentage points to 73.7% between 1996 and 2017 (Families and the Labour Market, ONS, 2017)
More people choose to send their children to schools outside their immediate locality (or are allocated schools in different areas).
More people are commuting to work rather than working locally.
Parents are more scared of letting children be independent
The average UK commute is now 52 minutes. Distance travelled for a commute went from 8.3 miles in 2001 to 9.2 miles in 2011. Compared with the 70/80s, the commute will have grown even more. Public transport is still popular but unless you have flexible working or can work from home, most parents who do school drop off will drive because it’s more flexible for the working day.
Schools generally start at the same time as work. So parents have limited time to get children to school and then get to work (in rush hour).
I have compressed hours and N goes to morning club 3 days a week, but my normal drive to town is doubled in rush hour over other times of the day. That leaves 30 minutes to get to work, 7 miles. I compress my hours so I can do one pick up a week, and do the drop offs, but I can’t compress it any more to change my start or end times to allow me to walk.
If I walked N to school (1.5 miles), it would take nearly 45 minutes to get there and back home to pick up the car, then driving back through the village I’ve just walked through. At the end of the day he gets picked up and taken to after school club just outside the village. Once a week I finish early to pick him up from school, again by car because I have 25 minutes to get from work to school. To walk, I’d have to 30 minutes earlier to drive home, then walk to school. With the state of our roads, scooting isn’t an option to make it faster.
Primary school children rarely walk to school alone. Roads are more dangerous with more cars on the road, and people haven’t given children as much freedom to get out on their own.Parents shouldn't be judged for driving their children to school. There's usually reasons why they can't walk them Click To Tweet
N is only 7. He’s fairly responsible and is used to riding his bike on the road with me walking or cycling. Maybe when he’s in the top class (year 5/6) I might decide he can cycle to school on his own. But, his dad might say no (I’m more relaxed about safety than he is). Where we live, he’s probably right. There are no pavements. The roads are rural, full of potholes, have lots of farm vehicles, school buses, and then cars driving too fast round bends. It’s not really safe for a child out on their own, who might get distracted.
The alternative is sending him across the fields, but again, there’s no footpath all the way, there might be animals or farm vehicles, and if there was a problem, no one would know until school register. If we lived in the village I’d be all for that. He’d have friends to walk with. But we’re too far out.
There could be so many other reasons why parents drive their children to school. Yes they should be responsible about driving near schools, parking (thankfully our school is small but has a car park), and think about not driving if they don’t have to. Maybe before everyone judges parents for driving children to school they should think about logistics and modern life.
And not all children who’re driven to school are obese. My son certainly isn’t because he’s active in school and out of it.
How do your children get to school? What do you think when you hear the arguments that parents driving children to school are irresponsible?
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