A walking bus scheme positively promotes exercise and improves traffic congestion around school grounds. The scheme is usually parent-volunteer led, with the school’s walking bus coordinator deciding on a convenient pick-up point and route to and from school. Pupils are escorted from the agreed pick-up location to school by at least one volunteer at the front of the group (the driver) and one volunteer at the rear of the group (the conductor).
Schools can easily implement a walking bus scheme at their school by consulting with their LA and their pupils’ parents. With sufficient volunteer staff, the school can successfully develop pupils’ road safety awareness and road safety skills, reduce traffic congestion, promote a healthy lifestyle and save money by avoiding costs of a school bus.
Before launching a walking bus scheme, it is essential the school is in possession of these important documents:
Enhanced DBS and barred list check
If volunteers will not be supervised by a member of staff when assisting with the walking bus, an enhanced DBS and barred list check should be obtained for the volunteer. If volunteers will be supervised by staff, a normal DBS check will be sufficient. These checks are ordered by the school and distributed to all volunteers, whether they are current volunteers or potential volunteers, to be completed and returned to the school prior to the commencement of the walking bus scheme. The school should send the completed form to the DBS and, if the check is successful, a certificate will be sent to the applicant. Once an enhanced DBS and barred list check has been obtained, the school can assign volunteers to a rota for the scheme.
A route-specific risk assessment should be written and carried out by the project coordinator prior to the start of the walking bus scheme. The assessment should evaluate the potential hazards which could occur during the route from the pick-up location to the school, and be created in accordance with the local road safety unit. Points of consideration when creating a risk assessment for a walking bus scheme should include, but are not limited to the following:
- Are the pavements wide enough to walk two abreast?
- Are all volunteers aware of procedures to follow in the event of an emergency?
- Are all volunteers road safety trained?
- Is there good visibility throughout the route?
- Is there a sufficient ratio of volunteers/staff members to pupils?
- Is there a fully equipped first aid kit available to take on each route?
- Are there suitable provisions in place for bad weather?
In the event of an incident occurring during the walking bus route, appropriate insurance cover should be obtained. Schools should review their insurance to ensure that it covers liability if an accident occurs during the walking bus route. It is the responsibility of the headteacher to ensure that the school has suitable insurance cover for this scheme. If the school has not acquired the appropriate insurance, it is vital that it is obtained prior to the first walk.
N.B. Please note that this document is for guidance purposes only, and it is the school’s responsibility to ensure they have the correct insurance to cover them prior to the walking bus scheme commencing.
Pupil medical information
The school should send out a medical form to parents who are interested in enrolling their child in the walking bus scheme. The medical form should detail the pupil’s important medical information, e.g. if the pupil suffers from allergies, asthma, sight or hearing problems; the pupil’s emergency contacts, contact details of their family doctor; and permission to administer or refer first aid.
It is important for the school to obtain this information in advance of the scheme commencing as some pupils may require particular medical attention during the walking bus route. Furthermore, if an incident occurs during the route, a volunteer or member of staff may be required to administer emergency care. It is, therefore, important to ensure permission is given by parents to schools to administer or call for emergency care, to avoid complications.
If a minor incident does occur during the walking bus route then it should be reported in the school’s Pupil Accident Log.
All members of staff and volunteers should be made aware of the school’s First Aid Policy.
Parental information letter:
The school should distribute a letter to parents preceding the pilot of the walking bus. The letter should inform the parents of what a walking bus is and the benefits it will bring to both the school and their child. The letter should also gauge whether parents are interested in the scheme by attaching a return slip at the end of the letter.
Parental permission form:
Once interest has been gauged and the correct procedures that need to be implemented prior to a pilot run of the walking bus are in place, a permission form should be sent to parents. The letter should outline when the walking bus scheme will be piloted, how long it will run for, whether the parent wants to enrol their child on the scheme, and the behaviour expected of their child. A signed return slip should be delivered to the school prior to the pilot of the walking bus scheme. Having a signed behaviour agreement in place will allow the schools to deal with bad behaviour appropriately.
A route map should be provided to staff, volunteers and parents to ensure that all participating members feel fully informed. The route should be chosen using a risk assessment. The route map should define where the collection point is and any alternative routes which may be used if the primary route is inaccessible at any point during the scheme. The route map should be reviewed by the project coordinator on at least an annual basis.
- Contact the LA: one of the responsibilities of the LA is to work towards reducing local traffic around school grounds and so should provide support for the scheme.
- Risk assessment: a road safety risk assessment should be created and carried out prior to the first day of the walking bus scheme.
- Walking bus coordinator: once the school has collected sufficient interest from the parents, the headteacher should assign a walking bus coordinator to set up, run and maintain the walking bus scheme.
- Insurance: the school should ensure that they have the relevant insurance documentation, which covers them against incidents which could occur during the walking bus route. It is the responsibility of the headteacher to acquire the correct documentation.
- Interest from parents: before implementing this scheme, it is worthwhile gathering information from parents to indicate how popular the scheme will be. If there is little to no positive response from parents, then the school may reconsider their position on setting up the walking bus scheme. Interested parents should be sent a permission form which includes a medical form and a behavioural agreement.
- Staff and volunteers: the walking bus is primarily run by parent-volunteers and/or staff members. All volunteers who have successfully obtained the appropriate DBS checks (including potential volunteers), should be road safety trained, aware of the school’s First Aid Policy and kept up-to-date with any changes made by the walking bus coordinator to the walking bus scheme. All volunteers should be made aware of the school’s Volunteer Policy and Agreement.
- Road safety training: road safety training should be conducted by a certified road safety officer. Training should be given to all volunteers, both active and potential, prior to the inception of the walking bus scheme.
- Walking bus timetable and route map: the school should decide when they want to run the walking bus. Questions to consider are:
- Does the school want to run the walking bus every morning and evening of the week?
- What will be the time of departure from the agreed pick-up locations
- Will the walking bus run morning and evening? – Running an after school walking bus will be more complicated because of after school activities, congestion of traffic at agreed pick-up location, and lateness of parents collecting pupils from the pick-up location.
As well as a timetable, a route map should be created and distributed to all parents, staff and volunteers before the first run of the walking bus scheme.
- Staff/volunteer rota: it is unreasonable to assume that the same staff and volunteers will be available every morning of the walking bus scheme; therefore, a rota should be put in place which rotates the days staff and volunteers are required, as well as their position in the bus (whether they are the ‘driver’, ‘conductor’ or in the middle). Staff and volunteer rotations should occur regularly, with new rotas being posted to staff and volunteers prior to the new rotation.
- Pupil register: once the school receives parental permission slips that enrol their child on the walking bus scheme, the walking bus coordinator should create a pupil register so that the volunteers can account for the presence of each pupil every morning. Implementing a pupil register can also encourage and improve attendance at school.
- Invest in high-visibility jackets: to ensure pupils can be seen clearly by traffic and other pedestrians, high-visibility jackets should be worn by pupils and staff at all times during the walk. These jackets also help staff, volunteers and pupils identify one another.
- Pilot run: it is advisable to launch a pilot run of the walking bus so as to flag up any potential issues with the scheme. Any issues which are presented in the pilot run can be ironed out by the walking bus coordinator prior to the launch date.
Managing a walking bus scheme
In order to maintain a successful walking bus scheme, schools should follow these simple steps:
- Keeping parents up-to-date: parents should be kept up-to-date through regular updates regarding the success of the walking bus scheme, any challenges it has faced and provisions put in place to overcome these, as well as any additional information the school believes the parents would like to know.
- Keeping potential volunteers up-to-date: it is unrealistic to assume that parent-volunteers will be able to commit to the walking bus scheme for the whole duration; therefore, it is important to maintain healthy contact with potential volunteers. Potential volunteers should be made aware of any changes made to the scheme so that, if they are called into action, they are aware of all the routes and protocols prior to their first walking bus route.
- Regular reviews to assess progress of the programme: to maintain a healthy walking bus scheme, scheduled meetings with the headteacher, the walking bus coordinator, school staff and volunteers should be conducted throughout the school year. The agenda should include topics such as what has been successful, any challenges faced and proposed steps going forward. Communication between all involved enables a continuous, smooth-running walking bus scheme.
- Regular reviews of the walking bus route: there may be occasions where maintenance, e.g. highways or footpath maintenance, is being carried out by the council. Works may impede the walking bus to take the agreed route. If works are scheduled to last a significant period of time, then the school should make provisions for an alternative route. Any changes to the route should be raised with parents and volunteers.
Leeds City Council (2013) ‘Walking Bus Information Pack’ p.2-5
Surrey County Council (2016) ‘Playwork: Walking Bus Guidance’