Pupils urged to walk in school run curbs

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The days of four-wheel drives and people movers jostling for position outside the school gates could be numbered under government plans to curb the school run.

Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, will publish draft legislation tomorrow giving local councils more freedom to deter parents from dropping off their children at school during peak hours. As part of the move, councils will be encouraged to pursue innovative ideas to reduce congestion outside schools.

The number of car journeys to and from schools has doubled in the past 20 years. Some estimates show that one in three journeys at peak school times are made by those ferrying children.

Tomorrow's Bill will pave the way for 20 local education authorities to be singled out as "pilots" in the effort to reduce the number of cars on the school run. One measure being advocated by Mr Clarke is allowing councils to charge wealthier parents for school bus journeys. Ministers believe that a modest charge would bring in enough extra revenue to improve services - which are now almost defunct in many areas - although headteachers warn that it could drive some parents back into their cars.

Other more innovative measures include adopting a "Pied Piper" system of bringing children into school - appropriate adults (parents, classroom assistants or teachers) building up a "walking crocodile" that collects children as they pass their homes.

Schools which no longer have bike sheds on their premises will be urged to rebuild them to encourage more youngsters to cycle.

According to ministerial sources, both these measures would achieve the twin aims of reducing traffic congestion and reducing obesity among schoolchildren, because cycling or walking would add exercise to their day.

Following these pilot schemes, schools could also be encouraged to stagger their opening and closing times to spread the traffic generated over a wider period.

Schools could also invite parents to use their websites to volunteer to share duties in driving children to school. At present, children who live more than three miles from school are offered free bus travel.

However, Graham Lane, chairman of the Local Government Association's education committee, believes that, instead of charging wealthy parents whose children live more than three miles from the school, ministers should introduce a flat-rate payment of 50p a day for all pupils and extend bus services to those who live within the three-mile zone.

Ministers stress that tomorrow's draft Bill is open for consultation.

But a nationally approved scheme giving all local authorities the freedom to charge for bus journeys and to adopt measures to bring the school run to an end could follow next year.