A GENERATION ago, some 70 per cent of schoolchildren walked daily to school. Today, in Scotland, the figure has declined to less than half of all children.

Now, a charity is urging Scottish local authorities to enforce car restrictions outside schools to get kids back in the habit of walking in the mornings in order to improve their health.

Living Streets Scotland says that walking to school has become “unfashionable in some ways” but that there are health benefits for children who walk rather than being dropped at the school gates by bus or in their parent’s car. Figures show that around one in three children leave primary school overweight or obese.

A new nationwide survey found that almost a third of parents in the UK’s biggest cities believe the streets are too unsafe for children to walk to school. There is widespread concern amongst parents about speeding cars, and car congestion, outside schools.

Stuart Hay, Living Streets Scotland director, said: “We really want to highlight the benefits of kids walking to school with their friends. We want to make this the normal way of getting to school rather than the school run, which has become synonymous with dropping-off from cars."

He added that some children are "dropped off by their parents halfway to school and walk the rest of the way. This is known as ‘park and stride’ and is something we want to encourage because it stops all the chaos around the school gates.

“But a lot of parents simply feel that school gates aren’t safe environments for their kids, so they drop them off in their cars – which makes the situation even more unsafe.

“It has become such a problem in places like Edinburgh that the city council there has banned non-essential vehicles from outside nine primary schools.” The School Streets project is reported to have led to more pupils walking to school in Edinburgh. The city's transport convener, Lesley Hinds, has said she is delighted to see fewer cars around the schools, slower speeds in nearby streets, and more children walking to school every day.

Each day David Rawson, 44, of Edinburgh, accompanies his daughters Tilda, nine, and Evie, seven, to Broughton Primary School.

“Really, it’s a good way for them and me to start the day,” he said this week. “Just that little bit of exercise in the morning gets you going. They’ve always walked to school and they are fit kids, certainly. It seems to help with their attendance record, as well.”

He is more concerned about pollution than speeding cars. “It’s not so much speeding cars on the routes we walk to school, but there is a pedestrian crossing there, which is obviously very much used when the schools go in in the morning.

“Because of that, there’s a lot of congestion, and there are stationary cars as well. For the last 100 metres on the way to school, it’s all stationary cars, so the air can get a bit bad there.”

The annual Hands Up Scotland survey published by Sustrans found that in 2015, 49.7% of all school pupils walked, or used skates or scooters to get to school, with 43.3% favouring walking. ‘Motorised travel’ was favoured by 42%.

The new Living Streets survey suggests that 82 per cent of parents polled want to see more schemes that make the walk to school safer and easier. Living Streets Scotland wants to see local authorities running walk-to-school promotional programmes as well as enforcing vehicle restrictions, to help prevent problems linked to air pollution and a lack of walking, including childhood obesity.

“It’s essential that local authorities make all our streets, including those around schools, safe places to walk, through installing 20mph speed limits and safe crossings”, added Hay.

He said that pupils who walk to school “do better, first of all, because they’ve had some exercise. Generally, we do have a childhood obesity problem in Scotland, and walking is the easiest, simplest and cheapest way of tackling that. It’s the most cost-effective way of tackling childhood obesity in Scotland. You don’t need all the organising that goes with sports.

“First of all, parents have to believe that it is safe outside schools. It is generally safe, because much work has been done to reduce the dangers. There are part-time 20mph limits outside most schools, there is traffic calming and there are a lot of crossings.

“That was all done 15 or 20 years ago. So it is safer around most schools, but parents still do not believe it, because there’s still so much traffic. So it’s all about councils reducing traffic levels near schools and promoting walk-to-school as something that is positive and beneficial.”