Hands Up Scotland Survey: Why we count all the hands

By Philip Glennie,
Children actively traveling to school take part in the survey

We use the Hands up Scotland Survey figures to help inform our own programme delivery and evaluate the impact of our work.

I Bike schools show a higher level of active travel than other schools in the local authority

Our Hands Up Scotland Survey is crucial in helping local authorities and partners build a more accurate picture of pupils’ daily travel habits to and from school.

We know that increased physical activity can help us lead healthier and happier lives. And by encouraging young people to travel actively for their journey to school, we can ensure Scotland’s children develop healthier travel habits that can continue long into adulthood.

Hands Up Scotland Survey

Now in its ninth year, the Hands Up Scotland Survey funded by Transport Scotland, is the largest collection of data of its kind in the country.

The survey was granted Official Statistic status in Scotland in 2012, confirming professional independence of the production and publication of those statistics is upheld in line with official statistics and international standards.

It is really encouraging to see that almost half a million pupils are taking part in the survey each year. That’s over 66% of school-age children across the country. 

In 2016, 49.3% of pupils said they normally get to school in an active way. Of these, 42.9% said they walked, 3.6% said they used their bikes and 2.8% said they arrived on a scooter or skated to school.

The survey results can be used by delivery organisations, research bodies and government departments for further analysis.

In the past year alone, partners such as Cycling Scotland, Living Streets and NHS Scotland have used last year’s results to measure the success of their programmes and build a clearer picture of patterns of travel to school across Scotland.

We use the Hands up Scotland Survey figures to help inform our own programme delivery and evaluate the impact of our work.

Lessons learned

The Tackling the School Run Research report, informed by the Hands up Scotland Survey 2015 results, concluded that active travel initiatives were more effective when approaches were shaped around a combination of training, behaviour change and infrastructure.

This conclusion is also supported by initial analysis of the 2016 results, which show that in schools with combined behaviour change interventions (such as The Big Pedal) and infrastructure investment (such as our Schools Cycle and Scooter Parking Grant), average rates of active travel are higher than where these programmes are delivered independently.

Initial analysis using the 2016 results reveals that average levels of active travel to school are 10.6% points higher at I Bike schools than at non-I Bike schools (57.2% and 46.6% respectively). I Bike schools are schools where an officer will develop a tailored and structured programme of cycling related activities for the whole school community.

Additionally, average levels of children being driven to school are 5.6% points lower in I Bike schools than non-I Bike schools.

The 2016 results also indicate that more children walk, cycle, scooter or skate to school when their school has been part of an active travel initiative. Furthermore, active travel rates increase where there are multiple initiatives offered at the same school.

Building on the success of our work

This is just the start of us using the 2016 data to investigate the impact of our work. We are excited to be working with our research colleagues to explore how the Hands up Scotland Survey can continue to provide us with unparalleled insight into school travel.

Whilst it is essential that we continue to build on the success of our work to date in schools across Scotland, the survey shows is that there is still a lot more which Sustrans Scotland, local authorities and partners can do to encourage active travel to school. 

The initial results make the case for combining behaviour change interventions with cycle-friendly infrastructure investment to achieve best effect, a position widely supported by other recent research studies.

More investment needs to be made to ensure places and spaces near schools are fit for walking, cycling and scootering, and that children are given the means to make more positive choices so that a new generation of Scots grow up choosing healthier and more sustainable travel options. 

Hands Up Scotland Survey 2016 Full Results


This article was edited on June 20th 2017, to reflect updated active travel figures from East Lothian and Clackmannanshire data.