Tackling the school run: research study

A research study to provide the latest evidence on school transport choices.

Chapter 9 - Summary and Recommendations


While the aim of this research was not to evaluate the effectiveness and success of individual initiatives in terms of changing travel behaviour towards more active modes, it has identified, through the literature review and fieldwork, elements that are of particular importance to address the school run. Central to this, is that initiatives are complementary with approaches shaped around training, behaviour change and infrastructure working best in combination and require to be sustained. This section provides an overview of aspects key to different approaches to increase the number of journeys made to and from school by more active and sustainable modes.


Bikeability is the core cycle training programme in Scotland with all but three local authorities taking part. Participation is characterised by an increasing trend in the number of primary schools involved, steadily increasing from 31.5% in 2010-11 to over 40% in 2014-15. While there is an overall increase in levels of participation, at the local authority level this is wide ranging from under 10% to over 90% of primary schools. The training is regarded as positive in terms of making children more aware of road safety and safer cyclists with it also engendering confidence in parents of their child's awareness and proficiency on a bike. Impact in terms of increasing the number of pupils cycling to school is less known with wider factors, such as infrastructure and surrounding street environment in terms of traffic, of direct influence.

Research which has been undertaken into the impact of Bikeability in England suggests there is not necessarily a direct impact in terms of increasing levels of cycling to school or generally, but there are positive impacts in terms of both children's' and parental perception and feelings surrounding cycling. These sentiments were echoed in discussions with pupils and parents during the fieldwork with training a positive impact, although infrastructure was a key issue to be addressed in parallel to measures to improve the proficiency and confidence for pupils.

This aside, cycle training is considered important as captured in 'An International Comparator Study' which noted that 'training for school age children would be an important part of the package for growing / maintaining cycling.'

Behaviour Change

Increasing active travel requires direct intervention through travel behaviour programmes which raise awareness and actively encourage individuals to raise awareness. This is largely achieved by a mix of national programmes as well as more bespoke local authority and school based initiatives as evidenced by the case study schools in this research and also through the literature review.

Sustained programmes with an ongoing activity component and complemented by one-off events/competitions within and between schools to reinforce the active travel message and retain engagement is a key element. The WOW programme is a case in point where Walk Once A Week and associated Walk of Fame reports positive impact in terms of increasing and sustaining mode shift. The competition and reward aspect is valuable, with Walk of Fame and The Big Pedal helping schools and pupils feel they are part of something bigger beyond their immediate school community and area.

A key challenge in Scotland is sustaining behaviour change within schools beyond a period of intense activity and/or support from local authority officers/delivery partners. This is not an aspect isolated to Scotland. For example, an evaluation of the safer routes to schools in Northern Ireland identified that the sustainability of the activities supported during the programme delivery period was dependent very much on the personal commitment and buy-in from the School Travel Champions. A review of walking initiatives in Ontario, Canada also reported on the importance of the commitment and enthusiasm from champions to sustain activity levels and success.

Maintaining momentum into secondary school was noted to be particularly pertinent. While wider factors, such as increase in school travel distances as well as practicalities, have a bearing on the option of active travel, initiatives such as the I-Bike programme in providing a rolling programme across primary and secondary year groups were noted to deliver positive impact. Further strengthening of the links with feeder primary schools through the examples illustrated in the research could also help to ensure behaviour embedded in younger years is carried forward into older years. Further consideration of the vocational aspects of active travel as well as the Curriculum links could also be of merit to continue to maintain interest and the profile of more sustainable and active travel in secondary schools.

Sustaining behaviour can also be helped through reward and recognition, both as elements within an initiative and also from a wider accreditation perspective. Competition and rewards/incentives are key themes of the initiatives and valuable aspects identified in the research by school staff and pupils in particular. This is similar to findings from other programmes with a toolkit developed by the NTA for use by schools who wish to promote sustainable travel for the school journey, including incentivising through a 'Green Boot Award' and Green Tree. In terms of accreditation, the European STARS programme and National STARS Award Scheme both indicate positive results in terms of promoting travel behaviour change through the accreditation of schools on a Gold, Silver and Bronze basis. A review of the Cycle Friendly School Award also suggests a positive correlation between schools with the award and levels of active travel.


Real and perceived safety is a key issue to active travel, and in particular cycling. Through this research it is highlighted this is a concern shared by schools, pupils, parents and stakeholders and cross-cutting across different geographies with both urban and rural areas having challenges in this regard. Parking and congestion at the school gate was also identified as a recurring issue across different schools regardless of location and whether the school was modern or an older build. Training and behaviour awareness programmes need to therefore continue to be complemented by investment in infrastructure which is conducive to creating safe and attractive environs for pupils to travel actively to and from school as well as measures to address parking and congestion issues at the school gate.

Design initiatives identified through the research and which involve engaging the school and wider community demonstrate the type of work which can be undertaken and with associated beneficial impacts. Such approaches with direct measures help to ensure the end result addresses the needs of the local community, thereby supporting more active travel for local journeys.


As well as the shape and content of actual initiatives, wider factors relating to their delivery are also important. Key success factors, which should be more widely transferable, were identified as including:

  • The drive, motivation and enthusiasm of travel champions within schools (typically a member of school staff);
  • Securing good levels of buy-in and engagement of pupils;
  • Pro-active partners (such as the local authorities and delivery partners) as well as wider community participation and buy-in; and
  • The availability of funding and physical resource to implement initiatives and/or infrastructure changes and the enforcement of restrictions where applicable.

Notwithstanding the positives, key challenges and barriers are particularly evident in relation to:

  • Addressing real and perceived safety concerns through the provision of infrastructure linking with the school gate. This is often compounded by parking pressures and associated congestion at the school gate during drop-off/pick-up times;
  • Resource constraints, both at the school level and in terms of dedicated personnel at local authorities, to lead, repeat and enforce the school run message at the local level;
  • Sustaining active travel into secondary years due to a variety of reasons ranging from school catchments increasing in size, to school workloads/kit requirements and wider choices/increasing independence;
  • Budgetary pressure and competing priorities at central and local Government, as well as within the financial year, school year and funding programme years which vary and can create challenges in terms of maximising the use and benefit drawn from available resources within a particular time period; and
  • Tackling wider societal norms around car use, walking and cycling in particular.

Further monitoring and maximising data collected through the Travel Tracker and national HUSS to monitor the impact of the initiatives individually and at a cumulative level over an appropriate timeframe. A key recommendation emerging from an evaluation of safer routes to school in Northern Ireland was the need to provide a longer time-frame for implementation with at least two school years suggested to be appropriate to monitor the impacts of initiatives.

Recommendations - Priorities for Government

It has been highlighted through the research that there is a role for different departments at the national and local levels, to continue and have greater involvement in tackling the school run and promoting active travel/travel behaviour changes. This section highlights some key learning from the study and considerations for different areas of Government policy.


On the whole, there appears to be scope for greater joint working and cross-departmental funding of initiatives and infrastructure developments across the various local and national Government departments. However, within this it will be important that the core messages and aims of initiatives are not diluted or confused, so that schools can set clear priorities and be suitably supported to achieve these.

Specific cross-departmental considerations include:

  • Cross-agency working to support the delivery of local initiatives against a backdrop of resource constraints. This may be through, for example, cross-departmental Government funding to provide mentoring and administrative support via national delivery partners;
  • Enhanced cross-working between Government departments and agencies to ensure initiatives are inter-linked where appropriate, consistent delivery and the opportunities presented by active travel are fully embraced. For example, strengthening of relations between Scottish Government/Transport Scotland, Sport Scotland (Active Schools) and Education Scotland (Daily Mile). The Daily Mile is an initiative where transport can positively contribute through embedding walking and cycling within everyday activity such as the journey to/from school and associated positive attitude towards physical activity and exercise; and
  • Linked to the above point is for the broader and further strengthening of the messaging of the role of active travel within wider campaigns in terms of health, environment and personal/social well-being for example.


The transport sector has to date led on supporting schools and the wider community to develop sustainable travel habits and to change social norms away from car use and towards active modes. While this is and will continue to be key, lessons from the research highlighted the benefits of community buy-in, and there may be scope to increase the role of the school community in the design of new infrastructure using some of the examples highlighted in this report. Further and wider engagement between transport and other policy areas is also a key dimension.

A combined approach to tackling the school run in terms of multiple initiatives and complemented by infrastructure would appear to bring the greatest success, to develop an overall school ethos and provide a consistent message to pupils and parents. Similarly, it was acknowledged by a number of case study schools that sustained initiatives (rather than short initiatives or one-off events) have a greater long-term impact on travel choices and behaviour change. Whilst events do have their place in assisting the initiatives to remain fresh and engaging, this should be considered in the overall complement of initiatives being offered within a school.

Specific roles for the transport sector include:

  • Leading on further development of cross-departmental, consistent and long-term programme of initiatives supported by appropriate funding;
  • Strengthening the role of the School Travel Plan and guidance from national and local Government in order to bring consistency to the process and facilitate the travel planning process as intended i.e. to instil sustainable and active travel behaviour and monitor change over time;
  • Review of the requirement for match funding applications in all circumstances, with consideration of alternatives such as contributory funding and 'value in kind' to facilitate wider roll out of programmes to other areas and schools and with a longer term commitment. The short-term nature of funding programmes was identified as a factor by some stakeholders and also raised at the SCSP Learning Event attended by the research team;
  • Consideration of the development of an Annual School Active Travel Summit for Government, local authorities, delivery partners and schools to come together to share experiences and learning with representation from across different sectors with an interest and direct role to play in addressing the school run challenge;
  • Engagement at the national level with authorities currently piloting the School Streets initiative to understand impacts and the potential for wider roll out across other authorities in Scotland, facilitated in the first instance by a Government led working group; and
  • Further developing monitoring/measurement of initiatives progress and impact. Most schools noted that they take part in the Hands Up Scotland Survey annually and many also utilised the Travel Tracker, but there appeared to be opportunity for greater use to be made of these data sources to monitor initiatives or to identify changes in travel patterns at the school level. There is scope to further use these data sources to not only understand trends at the school level, but to help schools and local authorities to plan and develop local policy and help with the targeting of initiatives. Raising awareness of the valuable data sources available, where possible, would be advantageous. This could be potentially facilitated through a central schools' data repository, such as a website-based resource, providing access to travel data from different sources.


Education is considered to have a greater role to play to drive forward messages to schools about the school journey, and to set priorities for schools. Stakeholders indicated that where behaviour change initiatives can be communicated to schools via the local Education Departments, the relationship with, and buy-in from the school was often better than those authority areas where other departments facilitated this. It was also shown throughout this study that the role of the 'travel champion', and the motivation and enthusiasm of that individual, is vital in the success of initiatives and instilling motivation and behaviour change in the pupils. As such, the importance of this role, and the benefits that the 'right person' can bring should be promoted to schools.

Recommendations for consideration include:

  • Strengthening of the role of Education Departments in national and local Government in relation to the development and delivery of school travel based initiatives and measures. This would bring forward more Education to Education dialogue and assist in embedding sustainable transport into school culture and learning at the school level;
  • Further profile raising of transport within the Education sector and at higher levels through a variety of methods, for example utilising the Association of Directors of Education, an Annual Learning Event, Head Teacher/Staff forums, and potentially through the school inspector process. This would assist in raising the profile of transport in the school environment from an operational perspective in terms of access, as well as learning opportunities, and supported by examples of best practice. The Government would have a key role to play in facilitating this process; and
  • Reinforcing the opportunities afforded by transport and related initiatives in terms of Curriculum links, including learning related to STEM subjects as well as the development of wider life-skills for young people in Scotland.


Similarly, a stronger and more pro-active role is suggested for Planning to provide a consistent structure and framework for new developments, particularly residential as well as school led developments, which considers access to and within the school gate from the outset. This includes, any new development that occurs on a popular route to a school which should also have consideration of the promotion/facilitation of active travel/safe routes incorporated at the planning stages.

A number of case study schools had benefited from infrastructure changes at the school gate and within the wider community, whilst others continued to suffer the negative effects related to parent's perceptions of safety regarding their route to school. Safe routes to schools are as equally vital in changing pupils travel choices as the provision of initiatives.

Focus for future policy should concentrate on:

  • Strengthening of Scottish Government planning guidance to local authorities to ensure planning authorities and infrastructure developers take account of school travel, and in particular the provision for access by active and public transport when planning new educational or residential developments. Such consideration is equally important where the provision of new facilities is by Public Private Partnerships; and
  • The impact on (as well as the provision of) safe, active routes to school should be addressed where developments are considered to have a significant impact on the transport network within a school catchment area or equally also provide opportunities to enhance active routes within a school catchment area. Further consultation with schools and funding is also vital to identify and tackle problem areas.

Health and Well-Being

The links between health and well-being and active travel were well known among respondents in this study with active travel promoted in schools during Health Weeks. However, it will be important that the health benefits of active modes continue to be communicated to/through schools, and therefore vital that a consistent message is maintained. There is the potential for health and well-being departments to become more actively involved in terms of their role in tackling the school run and there is scope for greater cross-departmental co-ordination and funding of initiatives. Health Departments can also assist in the reduction of car use more generally by communicating health benefits of active travel and contributing to working towards normalising walking and cycling.


Environment and Climate Change Departments also have a role to play and there is learning to be drawn in terms of looking at how health has become particularly embedded and associated with active travel choices at the school level. While there was an awareness of environmental aspects associated with sustainable travel, there is considered to be opportunity to utilise curricular links to further strengthen the linkage and connection of this in terms of transport and travel choices at the school, family and individual level as well as at the wider community level.


This research has highlighted that the school run is influenced by many different factors, and, therefore, a cross-cutting multi-disciplinary approach, underpinned by different and sustained intervention, is required to reduce the number of pupils travelling to school by car.

The research has illustrated the wide array of travel and behaviour change initiatives that have been implemented in schools across Scotland. There is an existing range of well-developed and well known national scale projects that local authorities and schools can utilise, and most case study schools had also developed a range of local initiatives, which varied in nature, scope and size. Schools have implemented both behavioural change initiatives and infrastructural measures/changes at the school gate and across their community to develop safer routes to school.

It was found that targeted initiatives have a positive impact, but sustained intervention is required to engender a step-change that reduces the number of pupils being driven to school. This includes providing the necessary joined up policy drivers at a local and national level across transport, planning, education, health and environment. Further infrastructure/physical interventions will only be effective if the necessary behaviour change initiatives are embedded in the school culture, local community and as part of a wider active travel strategy. This could extend beyond the school gate and into the workplaces of parents and carers responsible for the school run. Monitoring and evaluation activities which had been undertaken to understand and evidence the impact of initiatives reported a positive impact. Although outside the remit of this study, there is potential scope for further work to look at the impact of initiatives at the school and wider regional and national level.

In summary, there is no single answer to increasing active travel for the school journey, but rather, a combination of key elements appears to be important. Key aspects include:

  • Provision of infrastructure to facilitate sustainable travel choices;
  • Strong and solid delivery of training to allow safe use of the infrastructure;
  • Regular and ongoing reinforcement of activities to promote and encourage behaviour change towards an increased number of school journeys being made by active and public transport modes; and
  • Integrating active and sustainable travel fully into the school ethos and culture - e.g. by informing prospective parents that they would be encouraged not to take their children to school by car; having a committed Head Teacher etc.

Investment in programmes spanning training, behaviour change and infrastructure will achieve maximum benefit and flexibility should therefore be retained to ensure they are accessible and transferable to different school settings and wider school catchment communities. This will in turn serve to provide a favourable environment to boost active travel and assist in developing an active school ethos nationally, regionally and locally.

Whilst this research arose as part of a package of measures to address climate change, the scope for the work did not require the identification or measurement of reduction in car use/distance driven, or air quality levels around case study schools. As such, the extent to which the efforts made by schools to tackle the school run are impacting on climate change/pollution levels cannot be established from this research. Further, the climate change agenda was not credited as driving schools' delivery of behaviour and infrastructure change programmes. However, the research does suggest that schools' efforts to tackle the school run should indeed be contributing to the Government's commitment to address climate change, as well as wider health and well-being agendas, and transport objectives.


Email: Veronica Smith

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