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Road Safety Education in the Scottish Curriculum - Research Findings

DescriptionThe results of the research assisted in the development of a strategy for the SRSC to provide a more equitable and consistent promotion and delivery of road safety education within Scottish schools.
ISBN0 7480 9342 7
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateMay 03, 2000
Development Department Research Findings No. 78Road Safety Education in the Scottish Curriculum

Tony Graham, ODS Ltd, Frazer McCallum and Professor Peter Duff, Aberdeen University

The Scottish Executive and the Scottish Road Safety Campaign (SRSC) commissioned research to assess the current state of road safety education (RSE) in Scottish schools, the key stakeholders' views on RSE and the factors which affect its delivery. The results of the research assisted in the development of a strategy for the SRSC to provide a more "equitable and consistent promotion and delivery of road safety education within Scottish Schools".

Main Findings

  • The extent to which road safety education features within the school curriculum relies mainly on the interest and commitment of the head and class teachers rather than formal guidelines. This explains the variable pattern of RSE throughout the country.
  • While there are many examples of good and innovative practice, road safety education is frequently repetitive and non-developmental throughout the child's school life. There is a need for a greater awareness amongst schools of key skills and understanding which can be developed at different stages.
  • Road safety education should be a clear part of an overall programme of personal safety education, fitting within the school's Personal and Social Development curriculum. While road safety skills and knowledge can be reinforced using a cross-curricular approach, there is also a need for it to be taught in its own right as a discrete subject.
  • Road safety officers currently provide support to schools at a number of levels - direct provision of RSE, support to the class teacher and assistance with the overall development of road safety strategy. To make the most effective use of the Road Safety Units' resources, less time should be devoted to direct provision and more to support and advisory roles.
  • The Scottish Road Safety Campaign's main role in the development of a national strategy is to co-ordinate the development of a 'core curriculum' and to provide support through the provision of teaching and learning resources.


The Scottish Road Safety Campaign (SRSC) acts as the executive arm of the Scottish Executive Development Department in the promotion of road safety in Scotland.

Previous research commissioned by the SRSC 1 highlighted the generally inconsistent approaches to road safety education throughout Scottish primary and secondary schools. This study was commissioned to assess the overall factors which determine the way in which road safety education is undertaken in Scottish schools and the roles played by the key stakeholders. A further aim was to identify the mechanisms by which road safety education can be improved and delivered more effectively and equitably in both primary and secondary schools. The findings were used to develop a strategy for the Scottish Road Safety Campaign, which could be used to promote a more effective and consistent approach to road safety education within the curriculum.

Research Methods

The first stage of the study involved using 'case studies' drawn from nine local authority areas across the country to explore how and by whom road safety in the curriculum was being delivered. Interviews were held with Road Safety Officers, head and class teachers from both primary and secondary schools and education department officials - principally from the advisory service.

The case studies were selected to give coverage of a range of characteristics. Firstly, the authorities covered both rural and urban population areas. Secondly, the effects of different approaches to the organisations of the Road Safety Office within local authorities were considered. In some local authorities, for example, the Road Safety Officer function comes under the responsibility of the police, in others it is a direct responsibility of the local authority. Within the case study areas were included a number of Priority Partnership Areas (PPAs) i.e. those areas designated as the most 'disadvantaged' throughout the country.

Within each case study area, with the assistance of the Road Safety Officers, two to three primary schools and one secondary school were selected in which to conduct interviews with the head teacher or in some cases, the teacher with responsibility for road safety education (or the curriculum area in which it falls).

Other representative 'stakeholders' were interviewed from a range of bodies with an interest in road safety education and the school curriculum including:

  • The Scottish Road Safety Campaign
  • Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents
  • Her Majesty's Schools' Inspectorate
  • Scottish Executive Development Department - Transport Division
  • British Institute for Traffic Education and Research (BITER)
  • Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum
  • Scottish Qualifications Authority

In order to provide additional context, two focus group discussions were conducted with parents of school age children drawn from an urban and a 'semi' rural setting.

The second stage of the study - the development of a strategy - was assisted by a consultative seminar in which over thirty representatives of the various stakeholders participated, as well as a consultative meeting with the Education Sub-Committee of the Scottish Road Safety Campaign.


There is some very good road safety education practice within some Scottish schools. Conversely, there are schools where road safety receives a low priority. It was usually the level of interest and commitment of the head-teacher or individual teachers, rather than any formal guidance, which influenced the degree of importance attached to road safety education within a particular school.

Road safety units and their staff have a range of differing relationships with schools and local authorities. These range from providing direct road safety education through to more strategic relationships with authorities as a whole. Because of the general level of resources at their disposal, it is inevitable that a Road Safety Officer's time is often devoted to "reacting" and "responding" to requests from schools which promote good practice, rather than "initiating" and "developing" contacts with schools which have less of a track record.

There is an extensive range of support material for road safety education, of which Ways to Safety is the best known and most widely used among teachers. The main requirements of teachers are to improve access to existing material and to provide these in simple, short, easily accessible formats. Some resources are considered too detailed and elaborate.

Within the curriculum, road safety education is most appropriately located within the framework provided by Personal and Social Education.

There is also considerable scope for the development of cross-curricular linkages between other subjects and road safety education. These enable key road safety skills and knowledge to be reinforced. The SRSC have produced a range of useful resources aimed at developing these linkages.

Good practice in road safety education is developmental, progressive and relates to the stage of development of the child. Poor practice is non-incremental, repetitive and unrelated to the child's development.

The most effective road safety education is developed by partnerships between class teachers, parents and Road Safety Officers, each supporting the others. The resources of Road Safety Units would be more effectively deployed providing support to schools, teachers and local authorities, rather than undertaking direct 'delivery' of RSE.

Road safety education continues to suffer from an 'image' problem, especially when being undertaken with students in secondary schools. The curriculum is under increasing pressure from a growing range of subjects, themes and issues, especially relating to personal safety and development for young people. Road safety is competing within the timetable with issues such as money management and personal finance, drugs, sexual and personal relations, bullying and career and job search skills.

There is scope for developing a more holistic and integrated approach to personal safety education within the framework of Personal and Social Education. Personal safety education also needs to form a part of the overall management plan of each school.

It is possible to assess road safety skills and competencies within the existing national qualifications and accreditation framework, rather than developing additional subject categories.

A Strategy for Road Safety Education: Recommendations

A national strategy should be based on a set of clear learning objectives to be achieved at key stages in the young person's development. These should be supported by the development of simple and easy to use resources. The SRSC has a central role in supporting the development and implementation of a national strategy.

In the first instance, the strategy should be piloted within a number of local authorities. The strategy also requires a comprehensive training programme for the key stakeholders involved in its delivery - SRSC personnel, Road Safety Officers and teaching staff.

There should be a minimum commitment to road safety education at key stages in the young person's school life. At these key stages there should be certain defined learning outcomes which children should be able to demonstrate. Table 1 illustrates learning outcomes suggested by the research and the SRSC are at present considering final learning outcomes for key stages in the strategy.

The risk of involvement in a road accident is greater for young people living in Scotland's most disadvantaged communities. Once a national minimum level of road safety education is provided to all children and young people, additional resources should be targeted at schools and young people living in Priority Partnership Areas or Social Inclusion Partnerships. Within these areas community safety is usually a key issue and road safety education should be an important element of community based strategies aimed at enhancing personal safety.

Table 1:


Learning outcome


Ensuring child is aware of the potential dangers of road use
Develop self and spatial awareness of the child as pedestrian
Demonstrate a basic understanding of main information sources for pedestrians
Understand the characteristics of safe travel as a passenger
Be able to travel to and from school independently either as a pedestrian or on school transport
Demonstrate acceptable behaviour as a pedestrian or public transport user


Make longer complex journey with minimal supervision but with assistance in planning
Describe how to travel safely to and from secondary school
Be able to plan and make longer complex journeys using a combination of transport modes on an unaccompanied basis


Recognise the dangers of 'non-conforming' behaviour in the context of road use
Appreciate the effects of drugs and alcohol on road users
Describe the characteristics of good driving behaviour
Appreciate the psychological aspects of 'speed', reckless behaviour, alcohol and how these are portrayed in media stereotypes

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This document (and other CRU Research Findings and Reports) and information about the work of CRU may be viewed on the Internet at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/cru/

The site carries up-to-date information about social and policy research commissioned and published by CRU on behalf of the Scottish Executive. Subjects covered include transport, housing, social inclusion, rural affairs, children and young people, education, social work, community care, local government, civil justice, crime and criminal justice, regeneration, planning and women's issues. The site also allows access to information about the Scottish Household Survey.


1 'A Survey of Road Safety Education in Scottish Primary Schools', Platt V, Pringle S & Clayton A, BITER, 1996 (unpublished report)