Published: 25th MARCH 2019

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

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.

road outside school is closed to cars and children are playing and drawing with chalk

More than 2,000 schools and nurseries are near to roads with damaging levels of motor emissions

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.

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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. Blockquote quotation marks
Xavier Brice, Sustrans CEO

Xavier Brice, Sustrans’ CEO said:

"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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