Celebrating 10 years of the Hands Up Scotland Survey

By Megan Kirton,
children on bikes

Image credit: Colin Hattersley

This year our Hands Up Scotland Survey (HUSS) celebrates its 10th anniversary of providing reliable annual information on children's mode of travel to school in Scotland. 2018 also marks its sixth year of being an official statistic in Scotland. 

In this blog, we take a look back at how the Hands Up Scotland survey has developed over the years, and further look into how HUSS data has been widely recognised and used in a range of interesting data requests, further analyses and studies.

Over the past decade, the Hands Up Scotland Survey has established itself as the largest national dataset on children's school travel in Scotland. Starting in 2008, the survey has grown year on year, and now over half a million children in Scotland participate in the survey.

Data from the survey enables delivery organisations, research bodies, government departments and individual schools to build a more accurate picture of pupils's daily travel habits to and from school. 2017 saw the highest ever overall number of children taking part in the survey, due to a huge increase in nursery schools participating this year.

The 2017 results have revealed a continuing decline in walking to school, a national trend that has been continuing since the survey began in 2008. This is in contrast to an increase in cycling across the country which has increased by 0.1 percentage points year on year since 2014.

Active travel overall is still the most frequently reported mode of travelling to school in Scotland. Of the 48.8% of pupils who said they normally get to school in an active way, 42.3% said they walked, 3.7% said they used their bikes and 2.8% said they arrived on scooter, or skated to school.

16.5% of pupils said they normally traveled by bus, and 24.5% said they travelled by car or taxi (22.8% and 1.6% respectively). 9.7% said they travelled via park and stride.

Reach and uptake of HUSS data

HUSS data has been used by many partners over the years, from active travel organisations such as Cycling Scotland and Living Streets and to national institutions such as NHS Scotland, to measure the success of their programmes and build a clearer picture of travel patterns to school across Scotland.

Data has also been used by local authorities across Scotland to inform their Active Travel Plans and cited in a number of research studies, including the Glasgow Centre for Population Health's paper on Travel To School in Glasgow (2017) and a paper by Systra, Wellside Research and Sustrans on Tackling the School Run (2017).

Within just the past two years, the Sustrans' Hands Up Scotland team have received 19 external data requests for school level data. These have included requests from environmental trusts, transport planners, charities, parent councils, universities and consultancies.

The following case studies show just some of the ways the data has benefitted other programmes from helping them measure their impact on active travel and track the progress of active travel in school-aged children across Scotland.

Investigating active travel to school in Scotland: A forthcoming study from Sustrans and the Urban Big Data Centre and Sustrans

Sustrans successfully applied for a research Fellowship at the Urban Big Data Centre (UBDC), part of the University of Glasgow, between May and September 2017.

In partnership with UBDC, Sustrans investigated Hands Up Scotland Survey data alongside datasets on school-level behaviour change interventions, socio-economic variables and spatial characteristics between 2014 and 2016.

The aim of the research was to understand the impact of behaviour change interventions on active travel to school across Scotland and how this might vary. The Hands Up Scotland Survey provided a robust dataset on how pupils travel to school across Scotland and, alongside other datasets obtained through the Fellowship, enabled this study to take place.

The research is important to organisations, research bodies and government departments wanting to understand how best to influence active travel to school. This study is scheduled to be published later this year.

Using HUSS as an indicator for the children and young peoples health profile: The Scottish Public Health Observatory

The Scotland Public Health Observatory used HUSS to inform their recently developed children and young people's health profile.

This profile presents data from a wide variety of sources to give an overview on how safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and included children in Scotland are. It displays the wide sources and indicators on interactive maps to give users an overview of children's health and its wider determinants at a local authority level. The tool also allows comparisons to be made with the Scottish average or other specified area.

Data from HUSS surveys spanning 2008 to 2016 was used to illustrate and monitor how physically active Scottish children are. It also further reinforces the role of school travel as a daily chance for children to be physically active which can further contribute towards their overall health and wellbeing.

The tool also offers service providers, planners and policy makers with nationally comparable information to improve the understanding of health issues relating to people in Scotland, and sets these in a national context to take action to improve the health of communities. The HUSS data proved to be a valuable dataset included in the new profile and is used by all those working to improve the health and wellbeing of children and young people across Scotland.

Cycling Scotland's Cycle Friendly School Award Programme

Cycling Scotland haveused our HUSS data for their Cycle Friendly School Award Programme.

This programme supports more children to enjoy the benefits of cycling within a school and encourages pupils to ride their bikes more often. The award recognises the role played by parents, teachers and volunteers to increasing the level of cycling in schools.

Participation in HUSS also forms one of the criteria for the Cycle Friendly Primary and Secondary School awards. They encourage schools to record baseline cycling rates and track these throughout the school year.

The findings from HUSS were used to form a baseline of participation rates before and after a Cycle Friendly intervention within a school as well as to measure overall increases or decreases in cycling rates and in different sub groups (urban/rural, regional and local authority). Cycling Scotland also used our data to compare levels of active travel in Cycle Friendly Primary Schools, with overall levels of active travel for the local authority area.

Cycling Scotland’s initial findings using HUSS were that Cycle Friendly Primary schools demonstrate a 2% increase (5.24% vs 7.34%) in pupils cycling.

Future uses of the Hands Up Scotland Survey data

By showing levels of active travel (walking, cycling, scootering or skating) to schools across Scotland, the Hands Up Scotland Survey data can be used to examine the health and lifestyle choices of pupils.

It can also be used to help inform placemaking and road safety interventions and assist work to help local communities become safer and healthier places to live. HUSS data can also be used to investigate progress towards ‘reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, through evidencing private motorised travel (car and taxi) to school.

The Scottish Government’s 2018-19 Programme for Government sets out the vision to build an Active Nation, boosting investment in walking and cycling and putting active travel at the heart of transport planning.

The Hands Up Scotland 2017 data is likely to play a critical role in marking the baseline for rates of active, sustainable and motorised travel and future years of HUSS data will be important for assessing progress against this vision.

We also hope to see the continued use of HUSS data by other organisations, partners and research bodies to help measure the success of programmes as well as to inform planning and delivery of interventions aimed at reaching the Scottish Government's objectives of a Healthier, Safer and Stronger and Greener Scotland.

Read the Hands Up Scotland Survey results