In recent years, the UK government has been working to encourage more children actively to commute to school on foot or by bicycle, after it was reported that the percentage of primary school children who walk to school fell from 70% to 51% within a single generation.
To find out how much of a barrier the distance may be for Kent pupils wanting to walk to school, researchers at Clarks (the shoe company) analysed the distance between secondary schools in each local authority to get an approximate estimation of how likely school children are to be within the 3 miles* maximum walking distance of their local school as well as the more optimal 1½ miles* distance.
Why 1½ and 3 miles?
In 2014, the UK’s Department for Education set 3 miles as a statutory, maximum walking distance for secondary school children before advising that free public transport should be offered to them by local authorities.
However, a study of 4,013 adolescents found that the majority of them who do walk to school also live within 1½ miles of their school and that increasing this commute distance by even one mile would decrease the likelihood of a secondary school pupil walking to school by as much as 78%.
- In Folkestone and Hythe, more than a third of secondary schools (40%) are not within 3 miles of at least one other school. More than any other LA in Kent.
- Only three local authorities in Kent have all their secondary schools within 3 miles of at least one other school (Medway, Swale and Thanet).
- In Ashford, 50% of schools are not within the more optimal 1½ miles of at least one other school.
- 12% of secondary schools in the South East do not meet the UK Government’s statutory walking distance of 3 miles, based on the distance between their secondary schools.
The following information is taken from Clarks’ School Runnings project page.
Which local authorities in Kent have the least optimal walking distance to school for children?
How many schools are not located within 3 miles of at least one other school in Kent’s local authorities?
Going by the UK Government’s recommended threshold of a 3-mile walking distance to school, we looked at the local authorities in Kent and Britain to see which location’s secondary schools met this criterion – using distance between schools as a proxy.
- We found that in Folkestone and Hythe, 40% of secondary schools are not within 3 miles of at least one other secondary school. That is more than any other local authority in Kent.
- Three local authorities in Kent have every secondary school within 3 miles of at least one other secondary school.
|Local Authority||% of schools not within 3 miles of at least one other school|
|Folkestone and Hythe||40%|
|Tonbridge and Malling||8%|
How many schools are not located within 1½ miles of at least one other school in Kent’s local authorities?
Given that studies have found that 1½ miles are much more of an optimal walking distance from home to school than the 3 miles advised by the government, we looked at how often Kent’s local authorities met this standard.
- Half (50%) of schools in Ashford are not within 1½ miles of at least one other school.
- In second place is Tonbridge and Malling with 42% of schools not being within 1½ miles of at least one other school.
|Local Authority||% of schools not within 1½ miles of at least one other school|
|Tonbridge and Malling||42%|
|Folkestone and Hythe||40%|
Which regions in Britain have the least optimal walking distances for secondary school pupils?
We looked at the regions where the most and least secondary schools are within a 3-mile walking distance threshold.
- In the South East, 12% of schools are not within 3 miles of at least one other school.
- Scotland has the most schools that don’t come within the 3-mile threshold, with 32% of schools not being within 3 miles of another.
- Wales is in second place with 29% of secondary schools not being within 3 miles of another school.
- London has the closest proximity of secondary schools, with all schools here being within 3 miles of at least one other school.
|Region||% of schools not within 3 miles of at least one other school|
|East of England||17%|
|Yorkshire and The Humber||9%|
The benefits of walking to school for parents and their children
- You’ll get lots of exercise. Walking to school is an easy way of meeting the government recommendation for children and adolescents to get at least an hour of exercise a day. Even walking for 20 minutes has benefits for your overall physical and mental health. Walking every day will instil lifelong healthy habits in your child as they grow up.
- It will save you money. Walking to school is free! Not taking the car on the school run can save you a fortune on fuel, maintenance, and parking costs. Skipping public transport for a short journey will save you lots of money as well. A comfortable pair of girls school shoes or boys school shoes is the only investment you’ll need to make.
- It’s better for the planet. Skipping the school run by car is better for the environment. Driving produces carbon emissions, making walking an eco-friendlier way of getting to school. Walking also means that you’re not adding to harmful noise pollution caused by cars.
- There’s less exposure to pollution. According to a study carried out in Denmark, sitting in a car actually exposes you to more harmful emissions than if you were cycling or walking. Walking to school also reduces your exposure to noise pollution caused by loud traffic, proving a better option for looking after your hearing.
- It’s the best way to start a day of learning. According to Sustrans, a charity that promotes walking and cycling, teachers report that pupils who walk to school arrive more alert than those who use other methods of transportation. Parents and caregivers will reap the benefits of an energising morning walk, too.
- Your child will develop key skills. Walking with your child to school is a great way of helping them learn more about road safety and how to navigate the local area. This will help them develop independence and key decision-making skills. A comfortable pair of school shoes will help them on their way.
- You’ll learn more about where you live. Walking to and from school is a great way to learn more about your local area. Grab a pair of adventure-ready school trainers and use the walk to discover new routes and sights, which will add some excitement to the morning routine.
- It can improve your mental health. Walking to school is one way of boosting your endorphins and making you feel more positive at the beginning of the day. That boost of endorphins will also lower your stress levels and help you feel more relaxed.
- There’s more time for bonding. An energising walk to school is a great opportunity for bonding with your kids and learning more about their day. Making friends en route will increase your child’s confidence and you’ll both learn more about the school community as well.
- It provides an academic and creative boost. Several studies have shown that walking to school can boost a child’s academic performance more than any other mode of transportation. Research has shown that walking outside encourages creative thinking as well(opens in a new tab).
Methodology and sources
- Our analysis was performed in June 2022 and considers every operational secondary school in England, Scotland, and Wales as of the 2021/2022 school year.
- Schools were located via Google Maps and their geographic coordinates were used to measure the distance between each of them per local authority.
- We measured which local authorities come closest to meeting the ‘optimal walking distances’ to secondary schools according to two different thresholds.
- The first threshold comes from the UK Government’s Home Transport To School Guidance (2014) where 3 miles is recommended as the statutory walking distance for adolescents on their commute to school.* The second threshold comes from a study titled Active commuting to school: How far is too far? (2008), where the optimal walking distance advised is 1½ miles.
- With these thresholds, we measured how often and what percentage of secondary schools in each local authority were situated within 1½ miles and 3 miles of other schools situated in those areas.
- We considered this methodology to give an indication of how walkable a potential commute could be on a less granular, local authority level. It assumes that if there was a secondary school every 1½ / 3 miles or less, then for any children who do live between them, they are within an optimal distance for walking.
*A healthy 14-year-old girl should have a daily step count of 10,000. They would achieve that if they walked 2½ miles each way to school. Three miles needs a daily step count of 12,000. Teenage boys of adult height would be able to achieve a higher daily step count.
The material in this article is derived from the research done by Clarks (the shoe company) who have a commercial interest in increasing the use of shoes!
There are many reasons as listed above why walking to school is beneficial. Kent Bylines would like to explore this topic further by noting what various local authorities in Kent are doing to make this easier with school programmes, and with improving paths for walkers and cyclists. Please send in articles about this from what you observe in your locality!