Belfast Telegraph

Not enough Northern Ireland children taking daily exercise, report warns

Only a quarter of schoolchildren in Northern Ireland now walk to and from school, it has emerged
Only a quarter of schoolchildren in Northern Ireland now walk to and from school, it has emerged

By Eamon Sweeney

Only a quarter of schoolchildren in Northern Ireland now walk to and from school, it has emerged.

And less than two-fifths of primary school children are taking part in the hour of daily physical activity recommended by the Chief Medical Officer.

The statistics were revealed in a report from the Department for Infrastructure examining how pupils got to and from classes each day in the last year.

It shows that 65% of primary school children are driven by car each day, while 9% travelled by bus and only 1% cycled.

Although this year's results are similar to those in 2015-2016, there has been a decrease in those walking and therefore an increase in those travelling by car since 2013.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew said the statistics were a cause for concern.

"Combined with the lack of physical exercise detailed in these figures, this a worrying trend," he said.

"It's telling that we see such a huge difference in traffic levels when the schools are off."

The figures for post-primary pupils walking or cycling to school are, however, higher.

The survey shows that 45% of those at secondary level used buses while 36% were driven by car.

Under a fifth (17%) walked and just 1% used the train.

It was also revealed that 50% of primary pupils lived a maximum of a mile from their school compared to around 18% of post-primary students.

Conversely, however, 49% of post-primary pupils lived more than four miles from school compared to a fifth (19%) of primary children.

Oisin Kehoe, former principal of Gaelscoil na Daroige in Londonderry said that lifestyles had changed.

"The onus is being pushed onto the schools to address a wider societal problem without the proper funding or resources being allocated to do so," he said.

"Cuts to Extended Schools Funding as well as to the overall school budget by 10% in real terms mean that there isn't the money to roll out the sort of programmes that could make a difference.

"Many schools participate in positive initiatives such as the commitment to walk one mile a day and the walking bus initiative, but resources and curriculum pressures make it difficult to make an impact.

"Given that such a high percentage of primary age children already live beyond the standard acceptable walk to school distance, the problem is only likely to be exacerbated by the EA and CCMS's drive to close or merge small and rural schools."

The report showed as well that two-fifths, or 39%, of primary school kids and just over a quarter of post-primary pupils take part in more than 60 minutes of physical activity other than walking or cycling to school.

Mr Agnew said: "It is vital to look at the barriers to walking and cycling to school.

"Most importantly, we need parents to feel confident that their children will be travelling on safe walking and cycling routes as they travel to school every day.

"Charities like Sustrans have been very effective in boosting walking and cycling levels as part of a number of imaginative initiatives. We need to see these projects rolled out to a wider number of schools in order to support parents switching to a healthier means of travel."

Belfast Telegraph


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