Feargal Magee is the Head Teacher of Portadown Integrated Nursery and Primary school. He writes here with Rachel White about walking buses.
Portadown Integrated Nursery and Primary School is located in the town of Portadown, County Armagh in Northern Ireland, and suffers from bad congestion, making the school run a daily battle for parents, pupils and teachers alike. To reduce the number of cars during drop-off and pick-up time, the school has set up two walking buses on the Craigavon Cycle Trail to help children start their day with a little exercise and fresh air. There is a lot of traffic in the local area because of a nearby housing estate and hospital which means the roads around the school are very congested, especially during pick up and drop off time. We’re also based in a cul-de-sac, so it is difficult for cars to move around, as space is limited. This means the environment around the school gates can become very chaotic.
To help reduce the volume of traffic outside the school gates and encourage more children to walk or cycle, we organise two walking buses on the Craigavon Cycle Trail which links to the National Cycle Network Route 94 near Portadown. Forty pupils assemble at two meeting points every morning – a housing development and a set of local shops – and are led by two teaching assistants down quiet traffic-free routes. This means they avoid breathing in toxic fumes from cars and start their day with a healthy dose of exercise.
It’s great to see all the big smiles on their faces as they undertake the 10-minute walk to school – arriving fresh faced and eager to learn. The local community have even commented on how joyful everyone looks, with one local woman saying that watching the children’s smiling faces pass her window is her favourite part of the day. Without the nearby traffic-free paths, very few pupils would walk, scoot or cycle in, because the busy and congested roads in the local area are a huge safety concern. We’ve had fantastic feedback from parents who really value the time our two assistants put into organising the walking bus, as well as the local council. We want to continue to encourage as many pupils to walk, scoot or cycle to school and plan to open up the cycle path which leads up to the school gates. This is currently overgrown with weeds and not accessible to our students. Doing this, I believe, will help put parents at ease, knowing their children are travelling to school on a traffic-free path which leads right up to the gates.
This article was first published in 2019 in Vol 121 of the NAEE journal which is available free to members.