Nationally, on average, 47% of children walk, cycle or scoot to school (National Travel Survey). For schools participating in the A*STARS programme in Walsall the average figure is 64%.
This impressive figure is one of the results of the strong partnership working which has gone into creating Walsall A*STARS – a programme which combines the statutory duties of the Highway Authority, Public Health and Children’s Services and created the joint strategy which underpinned the development of the A*STARS scheme.
Why is the programme different?
A cornerstone of the programme is the unique approach to delivery that has been adopted. Integration between road safety, public health and children’s services has been critical to its success. This has been recognised both regionally in the Combined Authorities’ physical activity strategy, West Midlands On the Move, and also nationally as part of the Road Safety GB Conference.
Employing this integrated approach has delivered significant benefits – combining and delivering the statutory duties associated with the local authority with a public health approach to evaluate and target more effectively.
In 2012, Walsall Council road safety and public health teams identified a shared vision to increase the number of children actively travelling to school. They were conscious that this had to be coupled with promotion of safe road practices.
A small number of schools were identified and invited to participate in a pilot scheme, which trialled a number of road safety and active travel initiatives. The pilot evaluated well and additional funding was secured from the public health department for the road safety team to develop the Walsall A*STARS programme.
Alana Barlow, senior road safety officer at Walsall Council says:
‘We were fortunate that Walsall had a history of great partnership working to build on, and one of our strengths is that those of us working on the programme are all in the same building. Initially Public Health was based within the NHS but since its transfer into the council, being in the same directorate and in the same building has removed a lot of barriers and enabled us to work together most effectively.’
There has been a positive shift from a commissioner and provider relationship to one where there is a shared vision which road safety and public health are considered equally. ‘At its heart is ensuring the best for children and young people in Walsall, Alana explains.
Aims of the programme
Walsall A*STARS has the following aims;
- To contribute to the regional target of a 40% reduction in KSI (Killed or Seriously Injured)
- Creation of a physical environment where physical activity is part of everyday life and where safe active travel is seen as a routine form of travel
- Contribution to an improvement in air quality in Walsall
Age related Pathways
On its website Walsall A*STARS is described as;
‘…a fun and exciting programme designed to encourage sustainable travel and road safety on journeys to and from schools and colleges.
The Programme supports staff, pupils, parents, governors and anyone who has an interest in promoting healthy lifestyles.’
The programme targets all educational establishments and school communities; supporting children’s development at every stage from birth to adulthood. There is flexibility to meet the challenges of schools and FE, particularly those working with children with special needs.
There are four different levels to the programme:
- Foundation – for nurseries and pre-schools
- Intermediate – primary schools
- Higher – secondary schools
- Advanced – Further Education (FE).
The focus in the foundation and intermediate pathways is on walking, cycling, scooting and road safety initiatives appropriate for each key stage. A tailored package of support is given to early years and schools to help them to develop and promote safer, healthier lifestyle choices for all.
For secondary schools and FE the programme builds upon learning and then incorporates new life skills, as they progress into adulthood. There is additional focus on young driver schemes, in particular being both a safer passenger and driver.
Unfortunately, road collisions still remain one of the main causes of premature death for children and young people aged 0 -15 years. A road collision can have a devastating impact on children and their families as well as the school community.
Walsall believes that this issue cannot be addressed by a single department. Evidence shows that safer road design, improved driver education and training, and teaching children how to cope with the traffic environment can all reduce the chances of an accident happening and the severity of injuries.
As a result,Walsall A*STARS has a range of shared objectives across a range of departments in the local authority, and these are aligned to Walsall Transport Strategy 2019. This approach recognises the complexities of creating environments where children and their families can build active travel into their everyday life, and which promote physical activity thereby achieving a range of benefits for health, the environment and the economy.
Reach of A*STARS
Currently 85% of primary schools and 25% of secondary schools in the area are working towards an A*STARS award. Every school has a dedicated road safety officer as their named contact.
At present the A*STARS team is made up of three officers from the council.
Vikki Tolley, Children Health and Wellbeing Programme Officer, Public Health says:
‘Until you know the school’s individual priorities, it’s hard to engage with them, so we work hard to find out what matters to them and how they want to engage.. We talk with them about their priorities around physical and mental health, their priorities for connecting families together and caring for children’s overall wellbeing.’
A key priority for the programme is to engage further secondary schools. There have been challenges with engagement including the size of the school and timetabling A*STARS activities into the school day. Also, when students are required to travel across the borough to school, schools may believe that active travel is not a possibility. To make this process easier for schools, the A*STARS initiatives support a range of curriculum subjects and offer activities to access active travel both inside and outside of the school day.
The Health and Social care Act 2012 transferred public health functions from the NHS to the local authority. Walsall A*STARS programme is funded through the Public Health Grant, where there is a responsibility for improving the health of the local population and reducing health inequalities.
Taking a whole-settings approach
‘We take a whole school approach based around eight core principles. The evidence is clear that using this approach should ensure that schools are more likely to embed and sustain positive road safety and active travel across a range of outcomes.’
The following are examples of how A*STARS delivers across the eight core principles;
‘Initially, when a school signs up, we work with the school leadership team. We have terms of reference which are signed off by teachers and the head of governors to ensure there is accountability from a senior level. Then the school has to appoint an A*STARS co-ordinator who might be the head or the deputy, or another member of the leadership team. It’s important to have this person to champion and protect this area of learning.’
Every year each school participates in the annual travel survey and from this the school uses their own data to produce an annual action plan tailored to the needs and requirement of their own school. This includes certain compulsory core elements, such as pedestrian training reception and year 3, bikeability training, and engagement with parents. The school then needs to choose its bespoke wheeling, walking or road safety elements to meet the needs of their individual school.
The head teacher, senior management team, staff and governors are then expected to adopt and endorse the A*STARS programme across the school, embedding A*STARS within the curriculum and relevant policies and procedures.
2. Pupil Voice
Each school’s nominated co-ordinator then works with a small group of pupils (known as Sheriffs in primary schools) to look at ways they can assist them in implementing the range of initiatives in the action plan. This can include giving school assemblies, running competitions creating posters and campaigns for noticeboards, to encourage pupils, parents and staff to commit to the programme.
Training days are provided for the Sheriffs who are active supporters of the A*STARS scheme, especially at primary level. This includes a session on how to use their own dedicated area of the A*STARS website. Here they can access an activities planner for the academic year and easy-to-follow guides on how to lead and offer peer support on road safety initiatives, including Be Bright Be Seen and Walk To School Week.
The sheriffs can also access a wide range of resources including assembly presentations, newsletters and campaign materials and they can also message the road safety team from their website area,to ask for additional support.
The Sheriffs are responsible for holding inter-class competitions on road safety and active travel in their school. The winning team from each school is then invited to Walsall Town Hall to participate in the annual A*STARS quiz. This also provides an opportunity for the Sheriffs to be formally thanked for all of their hard work and dedication to road safety and active travel, by the Mayor of Walsall.
3. Curriculum and learning
Recognising that schools have many competing priorities, the A*STARS team has made sure that the programme links to Ofsted requirements for student development around active lifestyles and extracurricular activities, and makes schools aware of these links.
There are also a variety of curriculum resources provided across all key stages based on a spiral curriculum across a range of subjects. For example the Egg Helmet experiment is used in science lessons to encourage the wearing of cycle helmets.
Schools have welcomed this approach as the resources extend road safety and active travel across other subject areas and ensure that learning is revisited and reinforced across all key stages.
Vikki Tolley says;
‘A commitment from the governments Childhood Obesity Plan was the introduction of a Healthy Schools Rating Scheme. This has recently been launched by the Department of Education, and schools will receive a rating based on their answers to questions around food education, compliance with the school food standards, time spent on physical education and also the promotion of active travel. We feel that we are ahead of this plan in Walsall and are confident that our participating schools will be ready to meet this requirement.’
4. Parents, carers and wider community
Parents / Carers play a crucial role in the development of their children’s road safety knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviour. Through a variety of A*STARS initiatives / activities parents are involved across all key stages to further embed road safety and active travel principles.
Alana Barlow says;
‘As part of the annual travel survey we ask pupils how they got to school and how they’d like to get to school. So, if for example, 40 per cent say they’d like to cycle, we look for funding or ways of opening up space for cycle tracks. And as part of this we look at the existing barriers to cycling, such as lack of cycle storage space. Engagement with parents and the wider community is a must at this stage.’
Communities are also engaged as Vikki Tolley explains:
‘They can log online any concerns they have – such as cars parking on verges or the need to upgrade local zebra crossings, and we will pass on these concerns to the road safety engineering department,’
Within the service level agreement there are a number KPI’s associated with engagement of parents in A*STARS including number of volunteers involved in school travel activity and the number of parents / carers who have received pedestrian training.
5. Targeted Support
As young people gain independence they are more likely to start travelling on their own and this corresponds with a national increase in injuries in this age range. It was identified that young people in Walsall required additional training and support as part of their transition from primary to secondary school.
‘The resources for transition have been carefully designed with students. The focus is on balancing the risks of independent travel whilst emphasising the benefits of being safe and actively travelling to secondary school. It is important that this is a positive session, rather than simply focusing on the dangers with the possible end result that young people only feel safe travelling in a car.’
Targeted support is being offered to feeder schools in Walsall where concerns have been identified around transition. A road safety officer will spend a day with year 6 students to journey plan their routes to secondary schools, identify any risks, offering support with personal safety and advice about how to use public transport safely. At the end all year 6 students will participate in an active journey with practical pedestrian training.
6. Staff Development
Training and support is available to each A*STARS coordinator in each school. The A*STARS website provides a wide range of information and materials to support schools as they deliver aspects of the programme – such as proforma letters and outlines of assemblies. Training and support is also available for staff in the schools.
The A*STARS team regularly invites schools to attend network meetings, and also meets with the school’s appointed coordinator at the beginning of each year.
A variety of engagement methods are used to ensure that road safety, active travel and health education are addressed in schools. This includes:
- Term time network meetings
- Sherriff training
- 1-2-1 meetings with schools
- Inter class quiz and also an annual quiz
- Delivery of A*STARS initiatives in schools
- News item on websites
- Contact through an online portal direct to the A*STARS coordinator in each school
7. Ethos and environment
Alana explains that when you enter an A*STARS school it should be apparent that they are working towards their A*STARS award:
‘Throughout the academic year there is a golden thread of A*STARS activities taking place throughout the whole school.As part of the schools action plan every month there should be a different activity or initiative based on a different theme be it the Sheriffs noticeboard changing each half term, a whole school assembly, or practical activities outside.’.
Walsall A*STARS has worked hard to ensure that they make data collection as straightforward as possible for schools.
‘Schools told us that data collection was hard for them but we took a solution-focused approach, which has made things easier all round. We have created a way for schools to upload their own data onto our website. It was quite a challenge to get our website just right, but it’s been worth it, as we see the efforts paying off.’
Making the difference
The website and online data collection portal is what sets Walsall A*STARS apart from other programmes of work in this area. The website provides three key functions;
- Database for schools, reporting mechanism on active travel survey, initiatives, online booking facilities, access to resources e.g. teaching sessions, assembly plans
- Data insight and analysis function – this is used by both road safety and public health officers to target effectively, maintain engagement, encourage participation in wider initiatives
- General A*STARS information, the performance of each school, parking restrictions, safer routes to school, engineering
Embedded across services
Vikki Tolley, Children Health and Wellbeing Programme Officer, Public Health says that the A*STARS team is not just an intrinsic part of the transport department but is embedded across regional and local priorities. She says;
‘We are cited as an area of good practice, and our programme appears in a range of strategic documents because of the complex way we link across so many of the council’s priorities’.
Alana Barlow, Senior Road Safety Officer, says:
‘We want to make sure that everyone knows what we are doing, so there’s integration and cross linking. By working together, we make it easier for everyone to know what A*STARS is offering to their school.
We’re trying to create an environment where children and families can include active travel in their everyday lives, but making sure we do it safely and with the duty to promote road safety at the heart of this.’