A Formal Walking Bus is not actually a bus! Children walk to school in an organised group with registered parent/carer volunteers looking after them. This means parents don’t all need to walk with their own children every day, but the children can still gain the benefits of walking regularly.
How Does it Work?
It’s basically ‘taking it in turns to walk the kids to school’ at a fixed time along a fixed route.
The volunteers are usually parents or carers of the children participating.
There may also be paid staff members from the school helping to organise and lead the bus.
Participants wear high vis waistcoats which helps make the group more visible to the adult leaders and any drivers in the area.
The scheme is also risk-assessed for safety and insurance purposes.
Registration forms are completed by parents and pupils to ensure everyone understands how the scheme operates.
A Walking Bus may be linked in with a Park and Stride scheme to make it accessible to those who live far away.
Why is it a Good Idea?
It can make life easier for parents, especially those who have to head off to work some days but are available other days to help out.
Thanks to the bright waistcoats, it’s a very visible way of promoting walking to school in general and showing your community you are doing something positive and the visibility also slows drivers.
It is sociable, healthy and enjoyable.
Congestion and air quality near the school gates can be improved.
It is a popular action for school travel plans and can help the school achieve Modeshift STARS accreditation.
For schools with punctuality and attendance issues having a walking bus with a paid member of staff to run it can help solve these problems.
It can be a safe stepping stone to children walking independently – they get used to the route and get used to walking from a young age.
It can be easier to get started with an informal walking bus which doesn’t require any commitment or paperwork.
You need a core group of keen parents to make it a success. If you have a lead parent ‘champion’ make sure you have someone to replace them for when they move on.
Older children may be unwilling to join as they perceive it as being for the younger ones and may not want to wear the waistcoats. Solutions: they can join as buddy helpers, wear a high vis cap instead of waistcoat or better still can be encouraged to walk to school independently with their friends instead.
Setting Up a Formal Walking Bus
If you are a parent ask around other parents to see if there is enough interest. Then approach your school as you will need their support.
Contact your local authority Road Safety team as they may be able to offer support and advice, e.g., provide the risk assessment.
If you are a school and you want a formal scheme you will need a keen parent or team to start it up, co-ordinate it, keep it going and promote it to parents, children and the community.
Requirements: Because the volunteers are taking responsibility for other people’s children, certain criteria need to be fulfilled to start a formal Walking Bus scheme. Nowadays these schemes are usually organised and insured through the school so the requirements (e.g., parent-child ratio) depend on the school. Here are common requirements:
DBS Checks: Disclosure and Barring Service checks can be done through the school and is free to the actual volunteers. Some parents will already have this done if they regularly go in to help at school or are governors.
Volunteer Registration: Volunteers also need to be registered (complete and sign a form for the coordinator) and a list of volunteer names given to the school.
Risk Assessment of Route: The routes to be used are risk assessed (usually by a road safety officer) and approved. A parent who already is familiar with the route is often involved with this.
Information and Agreements: All participants including children, volunteers and parents are given information on how the scheme works and need to sign agreements. These may be available from your local authority. Contact us if you would like to see example forms.
High Visibility: All volunteers and children taking part wear high visibility clothing such as a fluorescent, reflective waistcoat or cap. This is usually a requirement of the insurance.
Procedures and contact list if volunteers are unavailable or sick.
Quick start: In reality it takes a while to set this all up. If parents/carers are keen to get started sooner, they could try out the informal walking bus where they all join with their own children.