Schools across the country are moving to ban the school run amid growing concern about the devastating impact of air pollution on young people’s health.
The Guardian has found that thousands of schools in cities and towns – from Edinburgh to London, Manchester to Ellesmere Port – are taking measures to try to deter parents using their cars. These include closing roads, setting up “park and stride” schemes, walk-to-school initiatives and “playing dead” protests.
Kathryn Shaw, from the charity Living Streets, said more families and schools were becoming aware of the impact of air pollution on young people’s health, as well as concerns over road safety.
“When parents drive up to the school gates, it’s not just their children they’re dropping off for the day,” she said. “The toxic fumes from the cars stay too. A lot of parents don’t want to drive all the way but feel there is no other option.”
But now schools, local councils and public health experts are beginning to take action. In Edinburgh parents have been banned from dropping their children off at nine schools. The scheme has been so successful it is now being rolled out to others across the city. In London, Hackney councilhas closed the roads outside five schools and the initiative is due to be extended to another 12 sites. A similar programme is to be launched in Westminster where the council says a range of options – including road closures – will be on offer from September.
In Alloa, Scotland children lay down and played dead in the road to highlight concerns around road safety and pollution outside their school. And in Stockport one primary school has introduced a “park and stride” scheme based in a local pub car park in a bid to stop parents driving to the school gates.
Shaw said Living Streets was working with more than 2,000 schools to promote walking, cycling and scooting and that more people were becoming aware of the benefits to air quality and “children’s physical and mental health” all the time.
The findings come amid growing concern about the illegal levels of air pollution in the UK and the impact on human health – particularly children.
Earlier this month a medical expert said the hospital admissions of a girl who died in an asthma attack at the age of nine showed a “striking association” with spikes in illegal levels of air pollution around her home in London.
The family of Ella Kissi-Debrah are now calling for a new inquest into her death following fresh evidence that air pollution was a contributory factor.
Last week a new report revealed how air pollution leads to spikes in health problems and drives up hospital admissions and visits to the GP. And last year the Guardian revealed that hundreds of thousands of children are being exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution outside schools, colleges and nurseries.
The government has been defeated three times in court over its air pollution plans and is now being taken to Europe’s highest court. Its own figures show the school run is a major factor, estimated to make up one in four cars on the road at peak times.
Alison Cook, director of policy at the British Lung Foundation, said children were particularly vulnerable to the impacts of air pollution.
“Damage to the lungs in early age is irreversible, and children breathing in dirty air is linked to chronic chest problems later in life.”
St Mary’s primary school in South Reddish, Stockport is one of several schools in the area which are trying to clamp down on the school run.
“We have a pupils’ eco-council at the school and they decided that, because of their concern around air pollution and global warming which we have been learning about, they wanted their parents to stop driving to school,” said a spokesperson.
The school has held marches with parents and children, written to parents asking them not to drive, launched a parking promise scheme and has a system where each child can log how they got to school each morning.
Now a local pub has agreed to operate a “park and stride” scheme, with parents parking in the pub car park and then walking the final seven minute stretch to the school gates.
“Because it has come directly from the children we have had real support from the vast majority of parents,” said the spokesperson. There are still some who drive but we will continue to work with them to improve our immediate environment for everyone at the school.”