Tackling the school run: research study

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

Appendix B: School Fieldwork Methodology


This appendix outlines the approach to the fieldwork. This includes details of the method adopted for the identification, selection and recruitment of case study schools and the qualitative fieldwork process, including the methods used to capture the views and experiences of school staff, pupils, parents and various stakeholders involved in the development and delivery of school based travel initiatives.

School Selection and Recruitment

Identifying Potential School Case Studies

Letters introducing the research and requesting permission to contact schools were sent to the Director of Education at each local authority in Scotland. As well as introducing the study, the letter also provided the opportunity for Directors to remove their local authority as a potential candidate school area. No authorities responded advising they wished for their area not to participate in the study.

A key task was to identify potential case study schools where pupils are within a distance which allows for active travel and also where active travel does occur to provide case studies with characteristics of relevance to this study. While the intention was not to obtain a representative case study sample, the study sought to include a range of different types of schools. A number of characteristics were considered in identifying the potential schools, including:

  • Type of school - primary and secondary; denominational/non-denominational; state/independent; co/single campus;
  • Geography;
  • Socio-economic characteristics of the catchment area;
  • Range of school travel initiatives (also informed by discussions with delivery partners); and
  • Proportion of travel to/from school undertaken by active modes, bus, and car.

This was informed by a range of datasets available at the time, including:

  • Scottish Household Survey (2014);
  • HUSS (2014);
  • Scottish Multiple Index of Deprivation (2011); and
  • Scottish Government Schools Database (2015).

The case study selection was also informed by previous research experience of the study team into school pupils' mode choice which highlighted a drawback associated with using the average school catchment distance as an indicator for identifying more or less sustainable school travel. The issue particularly arises in schools whose catchment consists of a small town or village, plus a large rural hinterland. These schools tend to have a high average catchment distance (influenced by the rural hinterland) and an average or better-than-average active travel percentage (influenced by the pupils living in the urban area, close to the school). However, when this 'good' school is examined in detail, typically, the mode choice behaviour of two sub-sets of pupils are little different from the national average figures and the school offers little insight other than that pupils who live close to school often walk or cycle and those than live far away tend to get driven or travel by bus. To avoid the same issue in this study, analysis was therefore undertaken which considered existing school catchment data and mode choice.

School Case Study List

The process outlined above informed an initial long list of over 70 schools. Following sifting and discussion with the Project Steering Group, a preferred case study list of seven primary and five secondary schools was identified and each school invited to participate in the research. Equivalent reserve schools were also identified at this time and selected on the basis of the same attributes described above. A letter was sent to the relevant Directors of Education advising a school(s) in their area had been identified and invited to participate in the study. The Head Teacher at each school was then contacted directly by the research team to introduce the study and invite their school to participate.

Three of the 12 schools initially identified declined the invitation to participate, and it was necessary in these circumstances to approach the reserve school. In one instance the first reserve school declined to participate and an approach was made to a new local authority, again informed by the initial long list. Unfortunately, this again proved unsuccessful and the decision was taken, in consultation with the Project Steering Group, to undertake 11 rather than 12 case studies.

Qualitative Fieldwork


In summary, the fieldwork phase of the study involved:

  • Interviews with school staff - Head Teachers, Deputy Head Teachers or other members of the school staff;
  • Pupil mini-focus groups with P6, S1 and S3 pupils who currently travel to school by sustainable modes or have the option to do so;
  • Pupil led interviews with their parents at home; and
  • Local authority and other stakeholder discussions.

Table B.1 provides a breakdown of the numbers of interview and focus group participants within the research and each element of the research is discussed in further detail below. Topic Guides were developed for each discussion and are enclosed in Appendix C.

Table B.1 Interview and Focus Group Participants

Stakeholder Primary Schools Secondary Schools Total
School Staff Interviewed 7 4 11
Pupils in Focus Groups 112 66 178
Parent Interviews 69 37 106
Local Authority Officers Interviewed - - 15
Other Stakeholder Officers Interviewed - - 9

Interviews with School Staff

Interviews were undertaken with a member of the school staff. This included Head Teachers, Depute Head Teachers, Principal Teachers or School Travel Lead/Champion. Some interviews were also attended by parents (from the Parent Council/Parent-Teacher Association ( PTA)) at the suggestion of individual schools where the PTA were active in promoting sustainable travel and delivering measures.

A specific Topic Guide was used to explore the views of school staff. This was themed around initiatives, outcomes, problems encountered, infrastructure and wider attitudinal and cultural aspects.

Pupil Mini-Focus Groups

At each school mini-focus groups were undertaken with pupils. Up to four groups with between four and five pupils were undertaken at each school. At the primary level, mixed gender groups were held with P6 and gender specific groups each with S1 and S3 secondary pupils. Groups were selected to provide a mix, as far as possible, of pupils who both currently travel to school by sustainable modes and those who don't, but with the option to do so.

Topic Guides were developed and included a short introductory activity undertaken as an 'ice-breaker' to relax pupils and help them think about how they travel to/from school and why. The discussions were intended to understand pupil perceptions and experiences around travel choices for the journey to school and influencing factors, including any infrastructure or initiative based factors. The Topic Guides also included a question to capture the travel behaviour of younger siblings to provide a view of how travel may change within the family unit and also where younger siblings may influence the travel of older siblings.

In total, 178 pupils participated in the focus groups comprising 112 primary pupils and 66 secondary pupils as summarised in Figure B.1. Of the primary pupils, 57 boys and 55 girls participated and of the secondary pupils 32 boys and 34 girls were involved at the case study schools.

Figure B.1: Pupil Focus Groups

Figure B.1: Pupil Focus Groups

Pupil Led Parent Interviews

It was also considered important to capture the parents' views and experiences of the school run and any school based travel initiatives. To facilitate this, pupils who participated in the mini-focus groups were asked to interview their parents through a homework based activity.

At the end of the focus groups, each pupil was provided with a pack containing a recorder, information sheet for their parents and a short Topic Guide with a series of questions to ask their parents'. Pupils were talked through what they were to do and also provided with a demonstration of how to work the recorder.

From 175 recorders handed out (three pupils preferred not to take part in the activity), 106 recorders with usable data were returned from eleven schools equating to a response rate of 61%.

Local Authority and Stakeholder Discussions

Interviews were also undertaken with a range of stakeholders involved in the delivery of initiatives at the case study schools. These included:

  • Local Authority officers from different teams, including School Travel Professionals, Active Travel Coordinators, Road Safety Officers and Engineering Professionals;
  • Those involved in the development and delivery of national programmes, including Cycling Scotland, Living Streets, Road Safety Scotland and Sustrans; and
  • A charitable service provider who assists the local authority and national programme organiser in the local delivery of particular initiatives.

Again, dedicated Topic Guides were used to illicit information about stakeholders' involvement in specific case study school initiatives, as well as their wider views and experiences of developing and delivering the initiatives at the school level.


Email: Veronica Smith

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