Helping Scotland build a picture of travel to school

Children walking and cycling to school

Our Hands Up Scotland Survey is crucial in helping local authorities and partners build an accurate picture of how pupils normally travel to school.

The impartial and robust results provide a solid basis for policy makers to formulate their plans around active travel.

Our role

Established in 2008, the Hands Up Scotland Survey looks at how pupils across Scotland travel to school and is the largest national dataset on school travel. 

The survey is funded by Transport Scotland and is a joint project between Sustrans and Scottish local authorities. The survey aims to:

1. Meet central and local government needs for policy relevant data on mode of travel to school in Scotland.
2. Be understandable and useful to stakeholders and so lead to a high level of use of the Hands Up Scotland Survey data.
3. Produce high-quality data in accordance with the UK Statistics Authority's Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

Official statistics provider

The Hands Up Scotland Survey has been designated an Official Statistic in Scotland by Parliamentary Order.  

The primary aim of Official Statistics in Scotland is to provide an accurate, up-to-date, comprehensive and meaningful picture of the economy and society to support the formulation and monitoring of economic and social policies by government and others.

Working together

The Hands Up Scotland Survey was first commissioned by Transport Scotland in 2008, as a response to a request from School Travel Professionals who felt there was a need to build a national dataset on travel to school in Scotland. 

The Survey is a mammoth task, gathering data from just under half a million pupils in over two thousand schools and nurseries in Scotland. Sustrans work in collaboration with the local authorities and School Travel Professionals in order to gather the data, and Sustrans’ Research and Monitoring Unit are responsible for cleaning, analysing and reporting on the annual data.  

Following analysis we release the National Summary Report, which presents the results at a national level, as well as outlining the policy context that the survey results can be used to evidence.

Local authorities also receive a report which contains all school-level data collected between 2008 and 2016, which enables them to do further analysis and to better understand the picture of school travel within their local authority.

Flexible and adaptable researchers

This year the Hands Up Scotland Survey results have been re-categorised in order to support more useful interpretation of results for key policy areas, such as health (levels of active travel) and air pollution, and CO2 emissions (levels of private motorised travel). The new categories are as follows:

• Active travel: walking, cycling and scootering or skating.
• Public sustainable travel: bus.
• Multi-mode travel: park & stride.
• Private motorised travel: driven (car) and taxi.

By following a consistent survey design and methodology each year, we make it possible to compare and track ‘active travel to school’ over time.

Wider application

In 2016, partners such as Cycling Scotland, Living Streets and NHS Scotland have used the 2015 results to measure the success of their programmes and build a clearer picture of patterns of travel to school across Scotland.

At Sustrans, the Research and Monitoring Unit is conducting further statistical and geospatial analysis using the Hands up Scotland Survey data, in order to inform our own programme delivery and evaluate the impact of our work.