Travelling to school without an adult


There has been a lot of debate (and here) recently about what is the appropriate age that children should be able to go to school without being accompanied by a responsible adult. To help inform this debate we undertook a short internet based survey that was publicised through our twitter account.

The aim of the survey was to: identify the age that people who are adults now went to school without an adult; whether this age has changed over time; whether there is any correlation between this age and the perceived safety of the route to school and whether there is any correlation between the age parents first went to school without an adult and the age they allow their own children to travel to school unaccompanied by an adult.

While the survey cannot claim to be statistically significant it did highlight a number of interesting points.

The average age that respondents first went to school unaccompanied by an adult was 8.4. However, this age was noticeably different by age of respondents. For those aged 40 and above the average age was 7.4, this increased to 8.2 for those 30-40 and for those aged under 30 the average age was 8.9 (survey respondents were aged between 16 and 58.). So it would appear that as time has gone by fewer children travel to school unaccompanied.

Age now Average age when first went to school unaccompanied by an adult
All ages 8.4
40-60 7.4
30-39 8.2
Under 30 8.9

This has occurred at the same time as the number of women entering the workforce has increased markedly (women are still significantly more likely to take their children to school than men) so time pressures would make it more difficult for parents to accompany their children to school.

For those aged under 40 there was no correlation between the age that people went to school unaccompanied by an adult and perceptions of the safety of the route. That is, if the route was perceived to be safe or not had no bearing on whether they were accompanied by an adult. However, for those over 40 there is a good correlation between age and perceived safety. That is, the more unsafe the route was perceived to be the more likely they would be older before they were allowed to go unaccompanied by an adult.

So did the adults’ experiences as a child impact on whether they allow their own children to go unaccompanied to school? The answer would appear to be no. The average age that the respondents let their own children go to school unaccompanied by an adult was even higher at 9.5 years old. Comparing the age when the respondents themselves went to school unaccompanied and the age they let their children go to school unaccompanied shows the later was 1.6 years older than they were. Again there was no correlation between the perceived safety of the route and the age parents were prepared to let their children travel unaccompanied by an adult.

While the survey would not stand up to serious statistical scrutiny it does appear to indicate that we are, over a long time period, becoming ever more protective of our children which is probably not a healthy situation to be in.

Why are we increasingly not letting our young children out unaccompanied? Road safety and stranger danger are the two most commonly quoted reasons.

In looking at pedestrian causalities it is notable that in 1979 the number of 4-11 year olds killed or seriously injured in Wales (the data set I had readily to hand and there is no reason to suggest the figures for the rest of the UK are not similar) was 234 which had fallen to just 35 by 2009. Are the roads becoming safer for children or have accident rates fallen because fewer children are out on their own? As for stranger danger, serious crimes against children are incredibly rare (the majority are committed by people known to the child) and there is no evidence to suggest the absolute level of such crimes has increased. Paradoxically it is teenage children who are allowed to travel unaccompanied who are far more at risk of various “street crimes” such as robbery, actual bodily harm as well as harassment.

So how do we explain the changes in the way we treat our children and reverse the situation we have ended up in? Interested to know your views.  As would I am sure the Walk to School campaign.

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