We must reduce air pollution near school gates

By Rachel White,
children holding up sign

Image credit: Andrew Lyons Photography

big pedal survey infographic

As Big Pedal 2018, the UK’s largest annual schools competition to encourage more young people to cycle and scoot to school launched this week, Rachel White, Senior Policy and Political Advisor looks at children’s attitudes towards air pollution and why their views on the issue matter.

The Big Pedal has started with more than 500,000 children scooting and cycling to school as part of the competition. It is always inspiring but we need to try and maintain this level of cycling and scooting to school all year round.

The reasons for this are obvious and cyclical. Children cycling, walking and scooting to school are healthier as they incorporate physical activity into their daily routine. They also arrive more awake and ready to learn. As more children actively travel to school it reduces the number of vehicles on the road which makes children and parents feel safer - encouraging more families to cycle and walk and so it continues.

All this also has a fantastic effect on the quality of air outside the school gates through reducing the numbers of motor vehicles.

Children are particularly affected by air pollution as their lungs are still developing and it can increase their risk of a range of long-term issues including asthma.

Sustrans conducted a YouGov survey with over 1000 children aged six to 15 from across the UK to explore what they thought about the pollution outside their school gates; the first of this kind in the UK.

We found nearly half (43%) of children living in urban areas were worried about air pollution.

The most popular response to improve air quality was over a third (38%) thought that encouraging more people to cycle, scoot or walk to school is the best way to help to reduce levels of air pollution with the second most popular response being to reduce the number of car journeys.

When asked about whose responsibility it was to tackle the issue of air pollution more than one in three (34%) thought that politicians are most responsible for bringing down levels of air pollution, with over a quarter (29%) believing drivers are most accountable.

We knew that parents were concerned about air pollution but these results show a large number of children are aware and concerned about air pollution on their school journey and are aware that reducing the number of motor vehicles on the road and increasing walking and cycling will help to solve the problem.

So what should politicians and schools do to help enable more children to cycle, scoot or walk to school:

  • Provide the leadership and funding to local authorities to enable every town and city to have a network of segregated cycle routes and quiet back street routes to give parents and children the confidence to cycle and walk the journey to school.
  • Support schools in rolling out school road closure zones at drop – off and pick-up times to reduce children’s exposure to air pollution in the school grounds and reduce traffic outside the school to create safer environments to walk and cycle.
  • Prevent car engine idling outside of schools to reduce air pollution

Find out more about our work on air quality

Download the 'Actively Improving Air Quality' report