This assembly explores responsibility and road safety, in the context of children walking to school

Most primary school children are taken to and from school by an adult. 43% are driven in cars (1), and one car in every five on the road at 0850 is on the school run (2). About half walk (1). It’s not known how many walk unaccompanied by an adult, but observation and experience indicate that it’s a minority. Many families would like to cut down on using cars for the school run, and in some areas communal walking schemes like ‘The Walking Bus Guide’ have been developed. These call for careful organisation, however, and there are many cases where children now driven to school could perhaps walk independently with a friend or two. Today’s assembly, based on a real family, tells of two children who decide they’re capable of walking to and from school and manage to persuade their parents to let them try.

Resources

  • Walk to school pic
  • Nice ironic cartoon

Introduction

How do you get to school in the morning? Hands up. Do you walk with an adult? Walk on your own? Come in a car? On the bus? On a bike? On an adult’s scooter or bike?

The trouble with coming in a car is that it adds to the local traffic [show the cartoon]. Oh, I know some people have to come in a car – it’s difficult to do it any other way. And if your family member is going to work anyway and they can drop you off, maybe that makes sense. But it’s still true that too many cars make the journey to school every morning. Not just this school, and not just this country. Do you think more people could walk to school? I think so, if they really tried.

Let me ask another question. Do you think more people could walk to school on their own, with no adult with them? Maybe they could. That’s a decision for their parents really, and it can cause quite a debate in the house. Here’s a story about that.

Jessica wants to walk

‘Year Six then Jess!’ said Jessica’s mum. ‘Big girl now.’

‘Oh yes,’ said Jessica. ‘Not that it feels much different. Mind you, one thing I’d really like to start doing this year is what we talked about before the holiday…’

‘What’s that?’ said Mum, although she remembered really.

‘Walk to school,’ said Jessica, ‘with Jaswinder. We could easily do it on our own. We’ve walked with you those times when you left the car at home and didn’t have to go to work. We know how to do it.’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ said Mum. ‘It’s a mile at least, through the streets. There are two roads to cross, and that big junction just before the school. I’m not at all sure…’

‘They’re little roads,’ said Jessica. ‘And there’s a crossing warden on the big junction.’

Mum shook her head uncertainly. ‘You know what people are like. Some of the kids don’t wait for the warden – even some of the mums go when they think it’s OK, even when he hasn’t stopped the traffic. I just think you might get drawn into doing that.’

‘No we wouldn’t,’ said Jessica. ‘You just have to trust us.’

That evening, Jessica’s mum talked to Jaswinder’s mum on the phone.

‘What do you think?’ she said. ‘Is it too risky?’

‘Well,’ said Jaswinder’s mum, ‘Nothing is risk-free. Yes, something could go wrong. But let’s think for a minute and do a risk assessment. Have they walked the route with an adult? Yes, you’ve done that with them. Do they trust the crossing warden? Yes, they do. They know Malcolm and they always wait for him. All of that really cuts the chances of something going wrong. So it seems to be a perfectly sensible and responsible choice.’

‘Well,’ said Jessica’s mum, ‘I guess you’re probably right. And it’ll be good training for them.’

‘That’s the main point I think,’ said Jaswinder’s mum. ‘Too many older kids, teenagers, have had no proper training on the road. Then they go on to be drivers and they have no sense of the road or those around them, and lots of them end up having accidents. The sooner they get a feel for what the roads are like, and how to handle the traffic, the better. That’s what I say anyway.’

So, the very next morning, Jessica waited at her gate for Jaswinder, who lived just round the corner, and they set off to school together. They were excited, and felt a great sense of freedom to be walking and talking together. But they also felt very responsible because they knew they’d been trusted and they didn’t want to do anything stupid.

So the very first time they had to cross the road, they went to where there were no parked cars, and then they waited ages until there was absolutely no traffic at all before they crossed.

‘We could have crossed earlier, while that bus was stopped at the top of the road,’ said Jessica.

‘Better safe than sorry,’ said Jaswinder.

Then they came to the crossing warden, and they waited together at the edge of the road until he stopped all the traffic and invited them to cross.

‘Hi, you two,’ he said. ‘On your own then?’

‘Hi Malcolm,’ said Jessica. ‘We’ll be on our own every day now.’

‘Wow, you’re getting to be big girls,’ said Malcolm. ‘Take care now.’

All day, Jessica’s mum thought about the two girls. She knew they must be OK, or she’d have heard, but she still wondered about them coming home.

School finished at quarter past three, and Jessica’s mum worked out that it would take the girls twenty-five minutes to walk home. So at twenty to four, she popped out of the front door and looked down the road. She could see quite a long way and she couldn’t see any sign of them.

‘I mustn’t worry,’ she said to herself. ‘No, I really mustn’t worry.’

She started to get the tea ready and then looked at the clock. Ten to four!

She walked out to the front door again. Still no sign.

‘Oh dear! Shall I phone the school?’ She thought. Then, ‘No, they’re still not really late. Not so late as to worry the school.

She did a bit more getting the tea ready. Then the phone rang. It was Jaswinder’s mum .

‘Any sign of them?’ said Jaswinder’s mum.

‘No. I’m just wondering whether to be worried.’

‘I’m sure they’re OK,’ said Jaswinder’s mum.

Jessica’s mum went to the door again and looked down the road. And there, in the distance, two familiar figures were strolling along, deep in conversation. She felt really relieved, and walked up the road to meet them.

‘Hi, Mum,’ said Jessica. ‘You didn’t have to meet us. Were you worried? Are we late?’

‘No, you’re not really late,’ said Jessica’s mum. ‘I just thought I’d have a look.’

‘Actually, we were a bit late coming out of school, ‘ said Jaswinder. ‘I couldn’t find my PE bag, and I had to think where I’d put it. Then we just walked slowly along talking about things. Sorry.’

Jessica’s mum realised straight away that little delays like that were always happening. If it wasn’t because of going back to find something, it was having to see a teacher or the secretary. But when she’d been picking the girls up in her car she hadn’t really noticed things like that.

‘No need to be sorry, Jas,’ she said. ‘We’ll all get used to this pretty soon.’

Conclusion

Across the whole world, many millions of children walk safely to and from school every day, sometimes travelling miles. Of course it’s sometimes risky. But everything in life carries its own risks. Riding in a car has risks after all. The trick is to know what the risks are, and to manage them properly. So although, yes, walking to school along busy roads has some risks, the risks are manageable. There are ways of crossing the road that make it safe. Taking notice of the crossing warden is also a way of keeping safe. Knowing what to do if the crossing warden isn’t there one morning is yet another way of managing the risk. And above all, it’s being alert, keeping an eye and an ear on the traffic and what’s happening, and not being distracted by the behaviour of other people. If you have those skills when you’re young, you’ll be better prepared for using the roads as you grow older.

A prayer

Lord, we think of all the children who are on the road travelling to and from school every day. Keep them safe and help them to enjoy the companionship and the exercise and the sense of freedom that comes with being on your own with friends in the open air.

A thought

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of just walking along with a good friend for company.

Things to think about

Jessica and Jaswinder are in Year Six. How old do you think you ought to be to walk to school without an adult? Or does it depend on who you are and how far it is, and what the traffic’s like?

Can you make a risk assessment for your own trip to school? What are the main problems, and how could they be dealt with?

(1) http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/statistics/datatablespublications/personal/mainresults/nts2008/
(2) http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/sustainable/schooltravel/travelling/avellingtoschoolanactionplan.pdf

This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2009

About the author: Gerald Haigh

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