Monday, August 10, 2009

So you think you know how children travel to school?

Now I do not want to offend, but in all probability, what you think you know about travel to school could well be wrong. Equally some of the things you encourage people to do in the name of health and sustainability will not help and in some cases will make things worse!

- Andrew Combes reports from the Dorset County Council, UK

The School Travel Health Check

Some thoughts/facts to ponder:
• Soon (we may already be at this point) we will reach a position where the majority of the UK’s children do not attend their nearest school.

• We consistently over estimate the distances children will walk or cycle to school.

• We have no spatial approach to the delivery of education.

• A sticking plaster is no good for a severed arm – We are in danger of using up schools considerable enthusiasm for achieving change in this area by failing to have policy in place at the local, regional and national level that supports their efforts.

The good news:
• If you live close enough to your chosen school you will walk (Walking is and will always be the majority mode).

• If we ever manage to achieve ‘European standard’ cycle infrastructure (experience shows this to be unlikely – please prove me wrong!) we will see far more cycle trips.

• What parents really want is ‘A good school locally’. This equals sustainable travel and communities.

Why are we at this position?
• We have failed to make best use of the rich data sources available to us.

• We have been handed a politically sensitive task which we have ducked; At the Local Authority level the notion of ‘Challenge and Support’ has quite a way to go!

• We struggle to work across borders.

• By placing the emphasis for change on schools we miss our strategic responsibility.

• Put another way we are still blaming lazy mums in their 4 by 4’s and expecting children to walk far greater distances than they ever will be able to.

How do we move forward?

1. Use your data well– The School Travel Health Check (used by 21 authorities to date) has recently been recognized as best practice by the Sustainable Development Commission and used as a case study within their publication ‘Towards a Schools Carbon Management Plan’ (June 09).

Put simply it works at all levels from school to central govt. But beware; it does not shy away from the Challenge and Support that is essential if we are to achieve real lasting change – some are scared of this (pretty sad really as we are only holding up a mirror to show what is going on).
NOTE: Please do contribute to the current DCSF ‘A carbon management strategy for schools ‘consultation that this document supports! http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/consultations/

2. Build on this foundation to put in place the strategic policy chain that can deliver sustainability

3. Pester your Local Authority to get involved in the School Travel Health Check – Yes it costs money; yes the private sector is feared and yes theoretically this work could be done in house. BUT, having spent most of my working life in Local Government I know what works and what does not... You will have to trust me on this

I still don’t know what a School Travel Health Check is?
1. Sorry far too much to fit in to this article and sorry no time to develop a dedicated website:

2. But do check out the resources in out InfoMapper ViewFinder under Safer Routes to School: www.viewfinder.infomapper.com/dorset/resources

3. School Census spreadsheets folder – Look at ‘Quick Guide 1’. Then take a look at the various spreadsheets.

4. School Travel Health Check folder – Examples of output going back in to schools.

5. Feel free to take a look in the other folders – we are making a start on delivering a spatial approach to the delivery of education.

Interested / Still confused? = Call me.
I work from home, which is great (Thanks Dorset CC!) and our dog loves the company, but it is nice to talk to a human from time to time! +44 1823 432946. a.combes@dorsetcc.gov.uk

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Andrew Combes, andrew@combes1.plus.com
Dorset County Council
County Hall, Dorchester
Dorset DT1 1XJ United Kingdom

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