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Giving clean air the green light

Too many children travel to school by car. Mike Levy on the search for safe alternatives.

The challenge is on to get children to school safely, but without damaging the environment. It is a formidable task. Surveys carried out by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) show one in five cars on the roads at peak time is doing the school run - four times as many as 20 years ago.

Add to this the fact that one in seven children now suffers from asthma. According to the British Lung Foundation that figure leaps to one in three in the inner cities.

However, one statistic that may surprise concerns the UK child safety record. It has one of the best in the world - 6.1 injury deaths per 100,000, second best in Europe after Sweden and half that of the United States.

Of course, the car is seen as a safe haven from child molesters or other dangers - but children are 200 times more likely to be killed by a car than by a stranger.

Government initiatives to encourage children to get out of the car include the Safe Routes to School (SRS) project which combines road safety awareness with sustainability awareness. Schools that use this approach have seen a major reduction in car use, says Paul Osbourne, project manager of SRS, which is co-ordinated by the charity, Sustrans (Sustainable Transport).

Safe Routes to School facilitates the development of school travel plans, which are devised by managers, teachers, LEAs, and pupils. Sustrans helps schools with their travel plans which are meant to contribute to Local Agenda 21 strategies on sustainable development.

Sustrans also publishes materials, provides training, gives site specific advice and helps write safe route reports. From April this year, funding will be distributed to help deliver school travel plans for areas of deprivation.

Grants of up to pound;10,000 are about to be launched to start walking bus schemes (childrn join organised groups to walk to school) or improve cycle security.

Money is also set aside to employ local authority school travel plan co-ordinators.

One of the biggest obstacles to cycling to school is security for bikes. Many of the new school travel plans seek to address this and there is funding available.

Mike Farrell, head of geography at Portobello High School in Edinburgh, is co-ordinating a pupil-led plan to improve bike sheds and lobby local politicians to install traffic calming near the school. "We got pound;10,000 for the more secure bike sheds," says Farrell who adds, "Eighty per cent of our children who own bikes do not ride them to school."

A recently-launched CD-Rom may also help schools to get children out of the car. Green2School links to a school database, and helps to identify pupils who are interested in walking bus, cycle club and car share schemes.

BP is producing a road safety video Living with Traffic, to be launched at the show and Sustrans has developed a resource pack for secondary schools which provides SRS topics across the curriculum.

The DETr is also launching free lesson plans for primary teachers at the show, which will be available on its new website ???

Plans will cover geography, ICT, PSHE, science, literacy and numeracy with accompanying worksheets for Key Stages1 and 2.

Sustrans have a new SRS Teachers' Resource Pack for KS23 and KS 34 for both the English and Welsh national curricula. BP Educational Service Publications A Safer Journey to School, Transport 2000 and DFEE 1999 (free) - Tel: 0845 602 2260E-mail: Travel Resource Pack, DETR May 2000 (free) Tel: 0870 1226 236E-mail:

School travel strategies and plans - a guide for good practice Safer Routes to School Scottish Executive 2000

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