Nearly two thirds of UK teachers want car-free roads outside schools

A big pedal infographic illustrating the thoughts of teachers when it comes to travelling to school
Angellica Bell with school children, ©2019, Paul Tanner, all rights reserved

Angellica Bell with school children in London

A big pedal infographic
25 March 2019

Nearly two thirds (63%) of teachers would support a ban on motor vehicles outside the school gates during school drop off and pick up times, new figures reveal.

A YouGov poll carried out for Sustrans, surveyed 840 teaching professionals across the UK about their attitudes towards air pollution and the actions they think should be taken to improve air quality outside the school gates.

More than half (59%) of those surveyed want the Government to take urgent action to improve air quality near schools. When asked what would help bring down the levels of air pollution outside schools, just over a third of respondents (34%) thought that encouraging more people to walk, scoot and cycle would help reduce toxic fumes, followed by educating the school community about the cause and effects of air pollution (28%) and school road closures (26%).

The survey also revealed:

  • Over half (59%) cited a lack of other routes for motor traffic as one of the main barriers to closing the road outside the school.
  • Almost half of the respondents (48%) cited that driving is a more convenient option for families and is one of the biggest obstacles to more people walking, scooting or cycling the school run.
  • More than one in three (36%) said they need support from parents to enact change on the school run and 27% said they need backing from local authorities.
  • One in three teachers (30%) are worried about air pollution, with 43% stating idling car engines outside the school gates cause concern, while a further 63% cited it’s a concern because the school is based on or near a busy main road.
  • The number of teachers concerned about air pollution near their school rose to 55% in London.

Air pollution is linked to up to 36,000 premature deaths in the UK each year and more than 2,000 schools and nurseries are near to roads with damaging levels of motor emissions. 

Earlier this month, Public Health England published a set of interventions for local authorities to urgently limit transport emissions, including banning idling car engines around schools and investing in foot and cycle paths.

Xavier Brice, Sustrans’ CEO said:

“We need to radically change the way we travel. Idling car engines and snarled up roads poison the air and our children’s bodies across the UK.

“For too long now, dangerous levels of air pollution near schools have been ignored. Finally, this is starting to change. Our survey makes it clear that teachers want urgent action to clean up toxic fumes. They see closing the roads outside their school as an effective solution but need support from local authorities to enact change.

“Across the UK, councillors that care about their young constituents are leading the way by implementing school street closures during the school run, to reduce air pollution and create a safer environment for families to walk and cycle. We want to see more. Our 40 closures for the Big Pedal show it’s possible.

“Young people across the world are taking action for a better future. Isn’t it time we did too? We urge local authorities to follow their peers. And call on Governments across the UK to support local authorities and implement clean air legislation to tackle motorised traffic, including large scale investment in walking and cycling to enable more people to choose active and cleaner ways to travel for local journeys.”

The teachers’ survey has been released to launch the Big Pedal 2019 (25 March – 5 April), the UK’s largest competition to encourage more young people to cycle, walk and scoot to school. Held annually by Sustrans, this year’s challenge has over 2,200 schools registered to take part.

Additionally, for the first time, 40 schools across England, Wales and Scotland, are closing their streets to motor vehicles for one day to improve air quality and safety outside the school gates, in partnership with Sustrans, Playing Out and their local authority.

Radio and television presenter Angellica Bell, who has today launched the Big Pedal at St Richard Reynolds Catholic College in Twickenham, said:

“I know first-hand the joys and benefits of riding a bike and how important it is for children to be active from an early age and that’s why I support the call for creating a safer and calmer environment around schools for children to cycle and walk.

“Events like the Big Pedal are fantastic because they demonstrate to children, parents and teachers just how beneficial it can be to travel actively to and from school for a few more journeys a week.”

Sophie Gallois, Unicef UK’s Director of Advocacy and Communications, said:

“Every day, one in three children in the UK is breathing in harmful levels of air pollution that could damage their health and impact their future. Worryingly, children are most exposed to toxic air on the school run and while at school, so a ban on motor vehicles outside of school gates has the potential to make a real difference. Reducing children’s exposure to air pollution is not just about the school street itself, but also taking quieter routes to school, away from busy main roads.

“The Government must take urgent action to tackle this growing health crisis by putting children’s health at the heart of its work on air pollution. That includes focusing interventions on places where children are most exposed to toxic air, like schools, and promoting behavioural changes that will create real impact for children now and in the future.”

The Big Pedal is organised by the walking and cycling charity Sustrans. The lead sponsor for this year’s challenge is Micro Scooters and the supporting sponsor is Tonik Energy.

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For further information, images and interviews, and the full version of the YouGov survey, please contact:

Anna Galandzij, Senior Press Officer at Sustrans, [email protected], 07557 915648
Liv Denne, Press and Media Officer at Sustrans, [email protected], 07768 035318


  • Sustrans’ school programme works intensively with over 1000 schools to transform the school run, making it easier for children and families to walk, scoot and cycle to school.
  • Sustrans provides free information for schools, parents, pupils, councils and anybody else interested in school travel initiatives. 
  • The Big Pedal is a UK-wide challenge which aims to get more young people cycling, walking and scooting to school, backed by British television, radio presenter and cycling advocate Angellica Bell. It’s the largest competition of its kind and will see participants across the UK leave their cars at home and get on their bikes, feet and scooters for their journeys to and from school. 
  • During the 10 days participating primary and secondary schools will compete with one another to make the most journeys by bike, foot or scooter. The theme of this year’s Big Pedal is ‘Travelling around the body’, with pupils tracking their progress on a wall chart, learning about how cycling benefits their health along the way.
  • All survey figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 840 teaching professionals. Fieldwork was undertaken between 25 February and 8 March 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK teaching professionals (secondary and primary schools).