Cycling, scooting and walking to school has many health and environmental benefits. Evidence shows that motor vehicles are responsible for most local air pollution, highlighting how active travel can help reduce road traffic around the school gates and improve air quality.
However, urgent action is required from the UK government and local authorities to enable children and parents to cycle and scoot safely. How can schools play their part?
We hear from teachers and head teachers across the UK about what they do to encourage active travel, why it matters and what they think about Sustrans Big Pedal.
Alasdair Friend, Towerbank Primary School, Edinburgh
Promoting active travel is something Alasdair feels very strongly about. Since 2016 the school has been one of nine in Edinburgh taking part in the City of Edinburgh Council’s School Streets campaign. The scheme limits traffic in streets directly outside a school at key times, meaning that parents are unable to park right at the gates to drop their children off. Alasdair says:
“Towerbank is a unique school in the sense that we are right on the beach. This means that the vast majority of our 730 pupils travel actively to school each day along the traffic-free promenade. There is no way that we would be seeing the same number of children walking, cycling or scooting to school each day if this safe, car-free route did not exist.
“The element of competition in the Big Pedal really helps to motivate pupils and teachers to travel more actively during the contest. It has definitely had an impact and has made the children more aware of the benefits that walking, cycling and scooting has to their health and the environment.”
Andy Buckler, Torkington Primary School, Stockport
Torkington Primary, based in Stockport, Greater Manchester, sits nearby the A6, one of the most congested roads in the area and a pollution hotspot . This, combined with few to no cycle lanes and fast flowing traffic, means that commuting by bike, scooter or foot isn’t always the easiest or safest option.
Head teacher Andy Buckler has been working hard to encourage more of his pupils to travel actively to help ease congestion and make the roads near to the school gates bike and scooter friendly. Andy comments:
“Safety is the number one concern for parents when travelling into school. The roads are extremely congested, especially at the moment because a new bypass is being built near the airport. We also have limited parking at the school which means there are cars everywhere in the morning and it can be quite hectic.
“We’re aware this is a huge problem, which is why we host a number of activities to boost pupil’s confidence on their bike and cycling proficiency. For example, all of the children in year five and six are taken on a two-day cycling proficiency course where they learn about safety, obstacle and traffic awareness and are also taken out on the road. This gives them the experience and confidence boost they need to cycle on the road safely during the school rush."
As a result of this initiative, Andy has seen an increase in the number of older children cycling to school in the morning. He adds:
“We decided to take part in the Big Pedal for the eighth year in a row. Each time we have entered I have definitely noticed a rise in the number of students either walking, cycling or scooting in the morning and afternoon.”
Gail Clemens, Chalgrove Primary, London
“Promoting an active lifestyle is at the heart of everything we do at Chalgrove Primary,” – says teacher Gail Clemens. The school holds the Gold STARS (Sustainable Travel: Active, Responsible, Safe) Accreditation school from Transport for London for its sustained efforts in July 2017.
Currently, 31% of the pupils walk, cycle or scoot to school each morning – a figure all of the teachers would like to increase to help combat the high levels of nitrogen dioxide that often surround the local area.
“With the help of Sustrans, the school has also held a number of activities including a bring your own bike day, bikers' breakfast, a ditch the stabilisers workshop and holds regular sessions on the importance of good air quality, mapping and healthy hearts.
“Events like the Big Pedal are great as they demonstrate how easy it is to walk, cycle or scoot to school for both children and their parents. This is essential, as one of the biggest barriers to a more active commute is its perceived danger, especially in London where the roads are busy and very congested.”
Rosemount Primary School, Derry
The school is situated in the bustling city of Derry, Northern Ireland’s third most polluted metropolis.
Head teacher, Paul Bradley feels very strongly about promoting walking and cycling:
“We want to change both our students’ and their parents perception that travelling by car is the most convenient mode of transport. It’s easy to make excuses for jumping in the car, such as bad weather, which we often have here. However, so far this year the children have only had to be taken indoors at lunch time on five occasions due to poor weather - so it would be great to see even more of the children cycling, scooting or walking to school.
“This year we held a walk to school day in March which proved very successful. During the day 300 pupils (almost 85% of the school population) took part and made the effort to walk to school from a variety of locations across Derry. We also closed part of the car park to highlight how much extra space the children could have for play areas if less parents travelled by car. It has definitely had an impact and has made the kids more aware of the benefits to their health and the environment.
“The great thing about the Big Pedal is that it includes all the kids, even those who might not be interested in cycling, scooting or walking. I’ve definitely noticed a huge difference in the children’s energy levels and enthusiasm when they travel in the morning after an active commute. Plus, they often arrive with a big smile across their face which is a lovely sight to see.”
Feeling inspired to get active during the school run? Check out our guide to cycling, scooting and walking to school
 Report from the Environment Department (Defra), 2017