click above to browse
through the current issue

Want to see your child's
work in print? The winner
will receive a �25 book voucher. Email: [email protected]


The school run – Diana Watkins looks at the balance between widening children’s horizons, giving them independence – and a stress free morning routine

“The school run is one of the biggest hassles in any parent ’s life – providing a much better range of choices for parents and children wil not only reduce congestion and improve the environment but it wil improve health and welbeing to” David Cameron

If getting your children into a school is a major preoccupation – just wait until you are plagued with the next worry – getting your child to school! Mornings can be difficult enough when you just have yourself to consider but add children to the mix and this could be a recipe for disaster.

As a teacher, I was always a bit sceptical about the excuses given by parents for the late arrival of their children – “The twins poured milk into the Corn Flakes” – “He had odd socks on so just wouldn’t get out of the car, so I had to go back and change them” – “I have to drop my youngest off at nursery and there was no one there until 8.30.” Dogs, gerbils, and even hamsters have all been cited as the cause for delayed arrival but it wasn’t until I had my own children that I realised these were not mere excuses, they were real causes of stress and family dysfunction!

If we believe in balance, we have to find a way to give children some independence whilst minimising the risk

Hannah wouldn’t go into school unless her hair was pulled tightly into a ponytail with no “lumps” in the front – getting her curly hair to lie flat took strength, patience and time which we didn’t have and often resulted in tears, both on her side and mine. Ollie just “faffed” about in the morning – play was much more important than getting ready for school. One day, tried to the limit and seeing the prospect of my job “going up in smoke” I took him to school in his pyjamas, much to the disgust of his judgmental nursery teacher, who had written me off long before as an unfit mother for not staying at home!

Being one step removed from this morning stress can help, particularly, if at the same time you are able to give your child a bit of independence. There are some parents who have solved this issue by waving their children off each morning on their own in much the same way as they themselves would have travelled to school. These parents are few and far between as evidenced in the huge furore that occurred back in the summer when the Londonbased parents, Mr and Mrs Schonrock, caused such a stir by letting their eight year old daughter and five year old son cycle the mile long journey from their home to school.

The Headmaster informed them that he would be forced to contact the local social services if they continued. The response was huge.

Boris Johnson railed against “barmy health and safety rules” and there were other equally vociferous claims that the Headmaster had every right to protect his pupils from “traffic and predators”.

The debate raged throughout the summer and brought up some important points but provided no easy answer. As parents, we are programmed to nurture and protect yet we also know that it is our duty to send our children off into the real world with skills that enable them to protect themselves. But bad things do happen and most of us are not quite brave enough to believe the statistics which actually show how rare this is. We dare not take any risk with our precious “cargo”. So, if we believe in balance, which seems to be the watchword for good parenting, we have to find a way where it is possible to give children some independence whilst minimising the risk.

Taking the School Bus

Children who take the bus get their first taste of “travelling on their own” – a big stepping stone for them. From as young as four, pupils can see this as a great adventure but they need to sense that their parents and the school view this in a positive way. Mrs Julia Eager, Headmistress of Leaden Hall School in Salisbury, has been delighted by the growing confidence parents have shown in choosing to send even the youngest children on the bus: “What started off as part of our ‘Green Travel Plan’ has proved to have far more benefit than we ever imagined. We had to show the council, that by granting planning permission for our beautiful school buildings in the historic Cathedral Close, we would still be able to reduce the amount of school traffic. We first started with one bus bringing children in from the local Park-and-Ride – now we are running four buses which bring children from all corners of the county.

The surprising thing is that the children using the bus have become much more confident and independent. They don’t rely on their mummies as much and are responsible for their own possessions. In fact, they have learned to think for themselves which is a real benefit as they get older and have to take responsibility for remembering their homework, sports kit etc.”

Mrs Eager continues: “Another bonus is that the children are much happier to talk to pupils from other age ranges and classes – so we have seen a real community, helping spirit developing where older children look after younger ones – and this becomes catching!

One of the best things we did was to ensure that every bus also carried an adult escort: someone to welcome each child onto the bus, check that they are safely seated, belted up and able to ensure that the ride is a comfortable and happy experience.

Some of the escorts are members of our school staff but we also employ escorts who love being with children and just want a part time job. They start off with the driver in the morning and finish as the last child is safely into school. The added bonus is that if any child seems to have a worry or may not be feeling well, the escort can mention this to our school secretary and all concerns are followed up.”

Nowadays, we can be pretty sure that because of the school inspection process, there is a commitment by all schools to have their compliance procedures in excellent order. Drivers and escorts will have specialist licences to drive the vehicle, plenty of training and, of course, CRB checks (the government system which checks suitability to work with children).

Children who take the bus get their first taste of “travelling on their own” – a big stepping stone for them

Some school bus runs have developed for reasons other than sustainability. Caldicott School, near the idyllic Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire, runs buses from Central London so that children can have the best of both worlds. The buses allow children, who benefit from everything that London has to offer, to spend their school days in the countryside. Says Headmaster, Simon Doggart:

“These children have brought a new dimension to the school, broadening the horizons of more local children. At the same time, Caldicott provides the boys from London with the advantages of space to play, fresh air and the ability to take lots of exercise.”

“There is nothing better than watching boys put on their outdoor shoes and run,” says Mr Doggart who, as a firm advocate of educating boys and girls separately at prep school age, feels that this is exactly the right environment to encourage the best learning outcomes for his pupils. He believes that many Caldicott parents have chosen daily travel as a “half way house”. They feel that the London day schools can be restrictive for growing, active boys but they are not quite ready to part with them to boarding school at eight years old.

“The parents really enjoy coming out to the country to watch anything up to sixteen rugby teams on Saturdays. The real bonus for the children is that whilst they may have a slightly longer journey to and from school they do not have homework so their day is no longer than their friends in the city schools – the fact that Caldicott has gained two Eton scholarships per year for the last five years has proved that the school has managed to achieve the right balance.”

“This is exactly the right environment to encourage the best learning outcomes for growing, active boys”

Car Sharing

Mike Davies, Headmaster of Edge Grove School in Hertfordshire, also feels very strongly that travelling to his school from the confines of North London can give both boys and girls the chance to experience a “holistic” education where healthy outdoor education and “bags of sport” can sit happily alongside a love of learning and a commitment to excellence.

“I don’t think there are many schools where you can enter the gates and see cows and sheep grazing in 27 acres of school grounds,” says Mary Walsh, Edge Grove’s Registrar. She helps parents find partners to car share: “When a child first registers with the school, I am very happy to put parents in touch with others who are also doing the same journey. We do have two school buses but by enabling parents to car share and pool resources the children can get to know other families and build mutually beneficial friendships.” Travelling to such an uplifting environment is well worth considering and being able to car share is a practical and positive solution which can have time and financial benefits.

Walking Buses

Walking buses are the most environmentally friendly option – one which also fosters a spirit of independence and a healthy lifestyle! A walking school bus is a group of children walking to school with one or more adult. It can be as informal as two families taking turns walking their children to school or it can be a structured route with meeting points, a timetable and regularly rotated schedule of trained volunteers. It is like the car pool without the car, with the added benefits of exercise and a healthy walk getting to meet neighbours and friends.

The walking bus is very simple and can be set up by any parent or teacher. There is a Walking Bus Guide which sets out exactly how it works and has been endorsed by none other than the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who recognises the same concerns so many of us have experienced: “The school run is one of the biggest hassles in any parent’s life – providing a much better range of choices for parents and children will not only reduce congestion and improve the environment but it will improve health and wellbeing too.”

Thinking laterally about how your children can travel to school is worth considering:

• You can access schools that may well provide a broader educational experience than you thought possible

• You can give your children their first taste of independence

• You can help your children become more responsible for their own possessions

• You can encourage them to learn how to develop social skills within their peer group and across age ranges

• You can benefit the environment – fewer cars on the road!

And last but not least, you can gain yourself more time with less stress! Oh! And I almost forgot – you could also set up a “Cycle Train” which is like a Walking Bus but with bikes!

Diana Watkins, former Headteacher and Chairman of the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS)

Walking Bus Guide:
Walking Bus Campaign:

Cycle Train Guidelines: cycletrain.pdf