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Thousands of pupils step up to join national Walk to School Week

More than 60 primary schools across Oxfordshire will be taking part in national Walk to School Week as the campaign to promote exercise, improve road safety and reduce congestion steps up.

Thousands of pupils will be getting active from May 20-24 as part of an innovative scheme commissioned by Oxfordshire County Council’s Public Health team working in partnership with Active Oxfordshire.

Walk to School Week is an extension of the WOW project supported by Public Health over the past two years. Run by Living Streets, the year-round walk-to-school challenge encourages children to collect badges each month as a reward for making journeys actively.

The council’s Public Health team seeks to promote, improve and protect the health of local people. It’s all part of the council’s commitment to thriving communities – we help people live safe, healthy lives and play an active part in their community.

Tracking travel habits

Since the launch of WOW across Oxfordshire in September 2017, active travel rates in participating schools – including walking, cycling, scooting or ‘park and stride’ – have risen from 65 per cent to 88 per cent.

The scheme provides schools with a ‘Travel Tracker’ which they use to record the different modes of travel, providing valuable insights into travel habits.

St Mary’s CE Primary School in Banbury is one of 20 schools across the county signed up to WOW and its pupils are shining stars when it comes to getting active and helping to reduce air pollution.

All 145 children in Years 1 to 6 are tracked and complete their own registration each school day on the Living Streets website.

When St Mary’s adopted the scheme in October 2017, 57 per cent were making active journeys to school. Now 76 per cent are moving actively.

Teri Smith, PE co-ordinator at St Mary’s, said WOW was now an accepted part of its daily routine. She said: “We want all children to be as active as possible and also want to make sure we’re doing what we can for the environment.

“There’s lots of excitement over the way children get to school and making sure they achieve their badges. We’re really proud of the way everyone has engaged with the scheme.”

Headteacher Victoria Woods added: “We as a school are in a really built-up area and the last thing Banbury needs is for us to be contributing to the congestion.

“We teach children about road safety and behaving properly on their walk to school. The children really like the badges and doing their own registration. They don’t have to walk every day which I think for working families makes it that little bit more accessible.”

What pupils at St Mary’s say

Year 6 pupil Rio Ali, 11, walks to school three times a week. “It takes about 15-20 minutes and is really good for my health and fitness. I actually prefer walking to being dropped off in the car – it’s about socialising and being with my friends.”

Year 4 pupil Line Al-awad, nine, walks the 15-minute journey to school every day. “If you walk every day it gives you more energy, you get fresh air and it helps to develop your muscles.”

Year 5 pupil Mati Perez, 10, walks 20 minutes to school every day with her mum. “I like walking because it gets your brain ready for the day and it’s good exercise. It’s also good because it’s not polluting the area.”

Year 4 pupil Finley Adu-Frimpong, eight, takes about 25 to 30 minutes to walk to school every day. “I like it because sometimes you can see your friends and chat to them. Walking also makes you fitter and stronger. I love the WOW scheme because you get badges every month – it makes you want to walk even more.”

How WOW is making a difference

Pupils are rewarded with badges once a month if they walk to school at least once a week. There is the incentive to claim up to 11 badges in the school year.

Since the first 20 schools in Oxfordshire started the programme in September 2017:

  • Active travel rates (walking, cycling, scooting, park and stride and getting off the bus early) have increased from 65% to 88%)
  • Walking rates have increased from 45% to 61%
  • Park and stride – which encourages parents to park away from the school gates and walk the last part of the journey – has risen from 9% to 16%
  • WOW costs less than £450 per school per annum and can be funded using PE Pupil Premium.

Creating healthy habits for a lifetime

Val Messenger, Oxfordshire County Council’s interim director for Public Health, said: “It has been wonderful to see such enthusiasm from schools and pupils in support of this scheme.

“It’s a great initiative which reduces congestion outside the school gates, improves wellbeing and creates healthy habits for a lifetime.

“Increasing day-to-day physical activity is a priority in Oxfordshire, where 79 per cent of children aged five to 16 do not meet the Chief Medical Officer’s physical activity guidelines. (See guidelines here)

“The children clearly enjoy taking part and are learning some great messages about the importance of being active by walking to school and helping to look after the environment by reducing air pollution.”

Working alongside the county council to promote active travel

Tom Gubbins, Cherwell District Council’s recreation and sport activities officer, said: “Cherwell District Council is passionate about helping children establish healthy habits early in life.

“We’ve got a targeted affordable activity programme for families in key Banbury areas which St Mary’s pupils are really making the most of. Working alongside the county council to promote active travel complements our wider aims for healthy lifestyles really well.”

‘Improving air quality for everyone’

Jenni Wiggle, of Living Streets, said: “More children walking to school means fewer vehicles on the road, helping to reduce congestion, road danger and improve air quality for everyone. We would like to see more local authorities following in Oxfordshire’s footsteps and prioritising the walk to school to help clean up our air.

“Walking to school not only improves our air quality but is a great way for children to build more exercise into their daily lives, helping them to arrive at school healthier, happier and ready to learn.”

Get your school signed up

Schools seeking more information on how to sign up should contact Sarah Ellis at Living Streets. Email her at