Most London schools have signed up to TfL’s successful education programme with almost a quarter seeing exceptionally high levels of or increases in pupils walking and cycling
Using active travel for the school run instead of the car can help improve young Londoners’ health and wellbeing
Almost a quarter of London schools are making significant progress in shifting pupils’ travel habits to walking and cycling, as part of Transport for London’s (TfL) education programmes, which are celebrating 16 years with the launch of a new brand, TfL Travel for Life.
Since 2007, TfL, in partnership with all London boroughs and the London Transport Museum, has run a variety of school programmes for pupils aged 3-17. These are designed to help young Londoners travel better and choose active travel options – walking, cycling and scooting. The majority of London’s 3,313 schools are participating in one or more of the TfL education programmes formerly known as Road Safety Club, STARS, Safety and Citizenship and TravelSmart.
The programmes – now consolidated under a single banner – TfL Travel for Life, have accredited nearly half of the 3,313 schools in London with Bronze, Silver or Gold STARS awards. Almost a quarter of these schools have received Gold accreditation, which means they have either reduced their car use by six per cent or they have more than 90 per cent of their students walking and cycling to school. Since the start of the programmes in 2007, schools have so far replaced 22 million kilometres of car journeys with active travel.
TfL Travel for Life brings all of TfL’s different programmes together to create one cohesive programme through a child’s school life, that will help them travel with confidence and independence, with a new website and more support for teachers and parents.
Choosing active travel for the school run has numerous benefits. Rates of childhood obesity are higher in London than in the rest of the UK, and opting to walk, cycle or scoot to school is a great way for children in the capital to improve their wellbeing and get more regular exercise.
A University of Cambridge study shows that children who regularly walk, cycle or scoot to school are less likely to be overweight or obese, a result consistent across neighbourhoods, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. A University College London (UCL) study also found that active travel improves mental health, further highlighting its benefits.
Fewer parents driving children to school also improves road safety, as TfL works to eliminate all deaths and serious injuries from London’s transport network as part of its Vision Zero programme. Following several measures taken by TfL, there has been a sustained improvement in safety for under-16s on London’s roads. In 2022, the number of children killed or seriously injured on London’s roads reduced by 63 per cent against TfL’s 2005-09 baseline.
Fewer cars also helps tackle the air pollution that leads to poor health outcomes and exacerbates conditions such as asthma, which affects nearly a quarter of a million London children.
Adopting a more active approach to travel and taking part in TfL’s education programmes can help foster a sense of independence and improved understanding of London’s roads and transport network. This in turn can help prepare children and young people for travelling on public transport on their own and even learning to drive later down the line.
London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner Will Norman met with staff and pupils at Gold-accredited Hillyfield Primary Academy in Walthamstow to see first-hand the difference TfL’s educational programmes have made to the school. The academy is part of the School Streets Initiative, imposing a temporary restriction on motorised traffic at school drop-off and pick-up times on six surrounding streets, to help tackle road danger and congestion. The school’s façade also features a green wall constructed from vertical ropes and planters, helping promote wellbeing.
With hundreds of London schools such as Hillyfield already taking part in TfL’s education programmes and succeeding in increasing active travel, TfL is encouraging parents using the car for the school run to consider walking and cycling instead as a first step towards a healthier, happier future.
Will Norman, London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner, said: “For 16 years, TfL’s education programmes have worked in London schools to help children travel safely, healthily and sustainably using public transport, walking and cycling. I’m delighted that, through TfL Travel for Life these vital programmes are being refreshed to ensure that next generation are set up to travel sustainably.”
TfL Travel for Life brings together the different educational programmes (Road Safety Club, STARS, Safety and Citizenship and TravelSmart.) Keeping the same engaging content and adding cohesive branding, an easier online process and a dedicated support team, it will help TfL reach its target of 1,000 Gold-accredited schools by 2025, and replace another 22 million km of car journeys with active travel.
Lilli Matson, TfL’s Chief Safety, Health & Environment Officer, said: “There is nothing more important than children’s health, and prioritising active travel to school is the key to unlocking so many improvements in their wellbeing. We’re delighted to see so many of the schools already involved with our education programmes take such positive steps towards increasing active travel, working towards the common goal of parents and teachers across the city for children to grow up healthy and happy. TfL Travel for Life keeps all the successful elements of our education programmes while introducing new features that make it even easier and quicker to manage, and we urge all parents to consider walking and cycling for the school run if they’re not already.”
Elizabeth McKay, London Transport Museum’s Director and CEO, said: “We’re incredibly proud to partner with Transport for London and the London boroughs to deliver TfL Travel for Life. Each year, our team is out and about across the capital working with 1,800 schools and around 100,000 primary school students to deliver the ‘Citizen’ programme, and supporting all London school’s with their ‘Travel for Life Accreditation’. TfL Travel for Life is a fantastic example of city-wide collaboration to inspire young Londoners to not only make greener, safer, healthier choices when they travel, but also a great way to get them thinking about their role in the future of our city.”
Lucy Straker, Campaigns Manager at Brake, the road safety charity, said: “When we surveyed parents and carers across the UK this year, more than a third (36 per cent) said their children couldn’t walk, cycle or scoot to school because roads are too busy, with a further quarter (25 per cent) saying it was because traffic was too fast.
“It’s every child’s right to be able to walk, cycle or scoot to and from school safely – and the way to enable this is with safe footpaths, segregated cycle paths, safe crossing places and slow traffic.
“So it is really encouraging to see initiatives like Travel for Life helping children and their families understand and reap the benefits of making safer and healthier journeys – because ultimately that’s how we can make journeys safer and healthier for everyone.”
Stephen Edwards, Chief Executive of Living Streets, the charity behind the national Walk to School campaign, said: “Walking to school has so many benefits for children and their families. From improved physical health to better mental health, independence, and walking is both free and the greenest form of transport. Teachers who take part in our WOW, walk to school challenge say children arrive at school ready to learn and concentrate better in class too.
“It’s fantastic that TfL are putting the safety of London’s children front and centre by investing in active travel to school. This really helps build healthy habits for life.”