Get on board for a healthier start to the school day

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

In honour of International Walk to School Month, The Bursar has curated the definitive guide for safely and effectively establishing a walk-to-school bus for your school community. 

The initiative is fully inclusive and provides an opportunity for school communities across the globe to unite in a worldwide program, regardless of location or school size.

The month-long event was established in 2011 and began with millions of children, parents, and community members from 40 countries walking to highlight the benefits of walking to school and prioritising safe spaces to walk. 

The history of walking school buses

The concept of communities grouping students together to walk to school, with two chaperones acting as ‘bus driver’ at the front and ‘conductor’ at the back, is believed to have originated in the UK as early as 1870, with students walking to school in pairs as what was then referred to as a ‘crocodile’.

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The idea gathered pace in Japan in 1962, and in the 1990s, Australian transport activist and urban planner David Engwicht is credited with introducing the walking school bus to Australian communities.

The benefits of walking school buses

Waking school buses help establish healthy exercise habits at an early age, teach children road safety skills, and raise awareness of a community’s walkability by identifying safe routes to walk to school.

There’s also the environmental impact of less traffic and less pollution, which, in turn, helps reduce potentially dangerous traffic congestion in school zones.

How to set up a walking school bus

It’s important to note that the responsibility for travel to and from school lies with parents and carers.  This means that the decision to implement a walking school bus needs to be made at the local school level, in consultation with the school community.

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Step one

School community volunteers will be needed to make it run smoothly. Their role includes establishing liability of supervising adults if an incident occurs and collecting parental permission for student involvement.

Schools should contact the local council Road Safety Officer for assistance with addressing road safety issues and a local police youth liaison officer could also provide additional planning support. 

At this stage, consider how many walking school bus routes are necessary, as well as how to manage expectations and provide solutions for students who might want to be involved but are not on potential routes.

Step two

Volunteers will need to begin working with children checks and project managers can set about researching the best possible route/s and ‘bus stops’ in the local school catchment area based on:

  • uneven footpaths, no footpaths, or parked cars on footpaths
  • potential risks
  • local traffic conditions
  • walking distance
  • age of students
  • the impact of bad weather

Step three

With logistics taken care of, a plan and processes can be adapted to suit the needs and preferences of each school’s unique take on the walking school bus program. Some things to consider include:

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  • limit/ratios for the number of students involved in the walking school bus
  • action plan for when students miss the walking school bus without communication
  • absences or unavailability of ‘bus drivers’ and supervisors
  • strong road safety messaging
  • bus ‘passenger’ behaviour management
  • walking school bus ‘driver training’ including road safety, first aid, and the provision of high visibility vests 
  • an accident plan
  • a system for attendance lists

Step four

  • once implemented, set up regular route reviews to check safety, suitability, building works etc. 
  • assess if the route needs to be changed each year with each new intake

Once you’re ready to rev the engine on your local community’s walking school bus, you can look forward to helping students enjoy a breath of fresh air, complete with deeper connection to parents, carers, students, and neighbours.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]