Tackling the school run: research study

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

Chapter 5 - Scottish School Travel Initiative Delivery


In Chapters 5 to 8 the main themes identified through interviews with school staff, parents, pupil focus groups and discussions with local authority officers as well as other delivery partners are drawn together. In this chapter the school travel initiatives available to pupils, including views and key success factors are discussed alongside the travel patterns of participating pupils.

Travel Patterns

Mode of Travel

Through the case study identification process schools were identified where pupils travelled actively and teachers were asked to select a mix of pupils who already travelled actively, or who didn't but had the option to do so.

Of the pupils involved in the mini focus groups, the majority of primary school pupils travelled by walking or cycling if they lived close enough to school or by car if they lived further away. A few used public transport, primarily bus. Distance, convenience and time were particularly recurring themes in terms of the reasons for mode choice with the balance of family life and work commitments apparent.

Overall, for the majority of primary pupils the weather did not seem to make a significant difference to travel patterns. Some did, however, say they would get a lift if it was raining or snowing, and some said that they would park and stride instead. Similar sentiments were noted at the secondary schools, however, some also noted that the weather, or indeed the time of year would impact upon the route they took to school, although the mode would remain static.

"It depends on the time - if there is plenty of time it doesn't matter how you travel. On the days I work it is easier if I drive you half way and then you walk to school." (Primary School Parent)

"If I can drop you at ten to nine at school, I can go straight away to work..." (Primary School Parent)

"Depends how we are doing for time. If it is bad weather, we take the car." (Secondary School Parent)

"Live close / too far from the school." (Primary/Secondary Parents)

"When it's starting to get darker mornings I walk a different route, I walk round the main road where it's lighter." (Secondary Pupil).

Other wider factors with an influence on travel to school which resulted in different modes being used on different days included which parent the pupil was staying with if their parents were separated. Furthermore, the preference of their childminder was also a factor as well as whether or not pupils were going to a breakfast and/or after school club.

On reflection, there was variation in how the pupils travelled when they were younger with no apparent trend in characteristics. In some schools, pupils had always walked while some now travelled by bus rather than car or took part in mixed mode travel i.e. park and stride.

For secondary school pupils involved in the case studies there was generally more motorised travel with a mix of car, school bus and scheduled bus where pupils lived far away. For pupils living closer, walking was common. Choice of mode by secondary pupils was primarily a reflection of distance involved and related wider catchment areas, particularly at the denominational and independent secondary schools with greater school bus activity and provision.

At the secondary schools with larger catchments, pupils tended to comment they travelled to school more actively when younger where their primary schools were closer. For some pupils there was no change in the way they travelled, with the primary school being co-located on the same campus as their secondary school. Some of the secondary pupils noted they generally travelled to school by car if attending the primary section, and by walking, cycling or scooting where they had attended a different primary school which was generally closer to their home.

In discussions, the fall-off in cycling activity between primary and secondary school year groups was commented on across different school settings. At one school it was commented that "According to the high school there's a massive drop-off from all the children cycling in primary. It's suddenly not so cool to cycle to school. So we want to try and encourage it as much as possible." (Primary School Staff).

Reasons shared by pupils for cycling less at secondary school were related to practical factors and also touched on wider lifestyle aspects, including:

  • Having too much kit to carry for extra-curricular activities such as music and sport and textbooks;
  • Having more activities to choose from now and more things coming into their lives, as well as more homework to do which displaced cycling;
  • Not wanting to arrive at school tired or hot/sweaty;
  • Not being able to listen to music or talk to your friends, but which you can do when walking to school;
  • Insufficient infrastructure and unsafe surrounds, for example being outside the town's limit for street lighting, not having to worry about dealing with traffic on the road;
  • Having no lock for their bike; and
  • Outgrowing their bike and this not being replaced.

Initiatives to address the attrition in cycling were being actively implemented at the case study schools. This included the I-Bike programme led by Sustrans and also bespoke local authority/school initiatives. These local level initiatives included led rides to let primary pupils explore different routes they could use to cycle to their new secondary school and in-classroom workshops to support pupils in planning their school journey after moving from primary to high school, including options for routes to cycle. Other local initiatives included:

  • School Cycle Clubs;
  • Pool bikes at schools to enable all pupils to participate in Bikeability training;
  • Participation through the school in leisure based cycling activities such as the mini-Etape as part of the wider Active Schools programme in Perth and Kinross; and
  • Links with local bike shops for cycle maintenance, including in-school workshop sessions.

Pupils and parents identified different measures which could potentially encourage more active and sustainable travel to/from school. These included:

  • More on-road bike lanes;
  • Scheduled bus services on routes and timetables with more flexibility to align to the school day;
  • Subsidised public transport for school pupils with the example of Northern Ireland cited where there had been consideration to give school pupils free travel passes;
  • School location and distance from home;
  • A later start time at school to remove the need to have to get up earlier to walk and cycle.

The increasing occurrence of scooting was highlighted by school staff and stakeholders and attributed to some as scooting is considered as quick as cycling, but as safe and as off-road as walking. The legal aspect of children cycling on pavements was also raised as a potential factor in the move towards increased scooting. Where complaints had been received by schools, good etiquette such as ringing your bell was emphasised at school assemblies.

In terms of staff travel, there was a mix between staff who drove and those who walked if they lived nearby. Distance was in part a factor with staff not necessarily living close to where they worked.

Travel Time

Travel time to school for the primary pupils generally varied between a few minutes to 15 minutes. One pupil did remark they walked an hour to school every day, saying that there were too many main roads to cross to come by bike. This length of journey time by motorised and non-motorised mode was, though, in the minority.

Across the schools, primary pupils tended to travel to school with somebody - a parent, sibling(s), friend(s) or a mixture. Some pupils did travel alone, although this was the minority. For some pupils, parents were noted to double-task the school run with, for example, walking the family pet or to also drop-off a younger sibling at nursery.

Journey times for secondary pupils were more varied, ranging from a few minutes to over an hour in both urban and more rural settings. One pupil commented that they knew someone who travelled two hours to school. Similarly, distance varied from a few metres to over 50 miles with longer distances and journey times more prevalent in circumstances where attendance at the school had been a conscious decision of the parent. For the majority of secondary pupils, the journey to school involved travelling with their sibling(s) and/or friend(s), although pupils using scheduled public transport tended to travel more on their own.

Travel Choices

Distance was highlighted as a key factor in determining how the school journey was undertaken with pupils highlighting that they lived so close to their primary school that there wasn't another option to walking. This was prevalent across different school settings. It was also commented that different travel options are needed for pupils who live too far away to walk, cycle or scoot to school. At a few of the schools, the local topography was also identified as contributing to mode choice and facilitating/hampering active travel. For example, the steep hill on approach to one of the schools in a more rural area was highlighted as less attractive for active modes and particularly for cycling. The reasons cited by pupils generally resonated with the findings reported by the Scottish Government's Travel and Transport report in 2014.

Travelling to school actively was viewed positively by both primary and secondary pupils, although both older and younger pupils did identify the need to get up earlier as a less attractive aspect. In terms of views on active modes and other options, pupils demonstrated high awareness of the health aspect of active travel in particular and to a lesser extent the environmental angle. Cultural attitudes are discussed further in Chapter 8.

One pupil living just outside the catchment for their school bus made the suggestion of pupils being able to buy a pass to travel on school buses rather than having to take scheduled public transport. This would have allowed them to travel with their friends rather than by scheduled bus or car on their own.

School Travel Initiatives

All primary schools visited took part in several of the national programmes, such as the Walk Once a Week, Bikeability, I-Bike, The Big Pedal and JRSO initiatives. Figure 5.1 summarises the involvement of the case study schools in different national level initiatives. This is reflective of recent activity, defined as what schools are doing now as well as initiatives they may have participated in over the past two years.

Figure 5.1: School Case Study - Travel Initiatives Overview

Figure 5.1: School Case Study - Travel Initiatives Overview

In addition to national initiatives, many of the case study schools also ran local level initiatives to encourage more sustainable travel by pupils. Examples included:

  • School Transition Workshops - classroom based workshops where pupils are provided with maps, bus timetables and journey planning tools to plan how they could travel to their new secondary school. Follow up sessions are undertaken in the Autumn term once pupils have moved to their secondary school to see how they are travelling and provide information/remind them of other options where required;
  • Led rides - primary school pupils are shown routes they could cycle to their new secondary school;
  • School residential trips which include a cycling dimension;
  • Stroll and Roll - introduced at one primary school to promote walking and scooting;
  • Play on Pedals - provided within a number of the primary school nurseries, this aims to teach nursery children how to ride balance bikes or learn to ride pedal bikes without stabilisers;
  • Road Safety, Speeding and Parking Campaigns - a number of the case study schools had also undertaken campaigns/initiatives/actions to tackle drivers speed outside the school, inappropriate parking by parents, and to reaffirm road safety to pupils; and
  • Participation/Supporting Community Events - a number of schools also actively participated in local community based events such as cycle events and charity/fun runs, with both pupils and teachers taking part, and/or acting as stewards at events, and also assisting with the set-up and administration of these.

The delivery of initiatives at all participating schools involved collective working between the schools, local authorities and delivery partners. For some programmes the involvement of the delivery partner is arranged by the local authority, while for others there is direct engagement with the school such as the I-Bike programme. Initially there tended to be more hands-on input, but as programmes and initiatives establish they become self-sustaining with officer support at specific times, such as Bikeability training sessions and during Walk to School Week and Bike Week. Where funding is awarded, there tends to be formal working agreements in place, otherwise working relations are generally predicated on collaboration towards a common goal to reduce the number of pupils travelling to school by car.

In discussing the delivery of initiatives, one of the stakeholders commented that local authorities tended to operate different policies in terms of how they support and work with Independent schools in terms of promoting active travel. Some provide support as they would do in state schools in their area whereas others do not offer support for different reasons. In terms of this study, it was observed that the independent school had received support for cycle training in the past. It was felt by stakeholders that more consistency in the support offered and delivery would be of benefit to the implementation of initiatives.

The majority of primary and secondary pupils were receptive to both national and local initiatives to promote sustainable travel and thought they were good fun as well as also recognising wider benefits, particularly the health linkage. At one school, staff also commented on wider benefits around social well-being and the impact on classroom learning. The types of points made included -

"It helps you keep fit and learn more stuff." (Primary Pupil)

"I think it is a good idea [all of the initiatives], as they are sort of different." (Primary Pupil)

"I think they are really good because they help you to stay fit and help the environment." (Primary Pupil)

"It is healthy, it keeps him fit and it is good for him." (Primary Pupil Parent)

"Coming in in the morning [walking via a teacher led walking bus] particularly on a Wednesday and Friday the children are calmer…most definitely because they have had a chat, they love walking with the teachers as well…….so the whole school community is involved in it, the staff really enjoy that as well and the playground is calmer." (Primary School Staff)

"It's not just about the health, it's the social benefit as well, and the emotional health, you see the children who are quiet, reserved and whose parents have left to walk and you see their self-esteem building and their confidence building." (Primary School Staff)

For many initiatives, mode split and change was identified as the biggest focus of monitoring activity. The number of schools and pupils participating in initiatives is also a key performance related target for both delivery partners and local authorities.

Many of the primary schools in particular, implemented a variety of measures. Schools which had implemented more initiatives and particularly those of a regular ongoing nature and with tangible reminders tended to report higher levels of active travel recorded by the HUSS in recent years. This said, HUSS data for schools which reported they had actively sought to undertake direct activity in the past year to encourage more active travel also indicated a positive impact in terms of reducing car travel.

Research undertaken by Sustrans looked at the impact of four types of initiatives at a mix of primary and secondary schools in England and Scotland: school travel planning, I-Bike participation, Bikeability participation and cycle network infrastructure changes within 500m of a school. Impact was measured by an increase in the number of children regularly using an active mode of travel to get to school (drawing on the most recent available data at the time from 2013). The findings reported that all initiatives showed significantly higher levels of pupils cycling to school compared to schools without the initiative.

Furthermore, findings suggested that delivering multiple interventions at a school does increase the number of children using active travel over and above the impact of individual interventions. Unfortunately, however, there was no available record of when interventions occurred and therefore the analysis compared schools with no intervention versus those with, rather than looking at travel behaviour before and after interventions at specific schools. This was identified as a weakness of the study as it is possible that schools choosing to participate in revenue interventions may be more receptive to active travel.

The difficulty of attributing change to a specific intervention was also raised in discussions with stakeholders and it was felt that measures delivered in combination will have most impact at a cumulative level. The point was also made that in many instances cycling to school will not be practical, such as due to a wide catchment area or current road safety issues. However, promoting active travel at school through programmes should also have an impact on other trips pupils make outside the school setting and there is a need to establish effective monitoring of this as well as the school journey.

While the literature review suggests initiatives have a positive impact, detailed analysis of active travel mode share before and after new initiatives and/or significant investment in infrastructure would though be required at the schools and across a larger census of schools in Scotland to fully establish the extent to which measures can be directly attributed to observed changes in mode share. As noted, initial high-level analysis undertaken by Sustrans indicates that initiatives working in combination achieve greatest impact. Further, more detailed analysis of co-intervention delivery would also be of merit to understand the impact of initiatives implemented in combination.

"It is also important to look at outcomes more widely e.g. not just journeys to school but overall impact in terms of mode share." (Stakeholder)

"Schools that have larger teams often do cycling, safer active travel, Eco-Schools." (Stakeholder)

In discussing the initiatives, one of the secondary schools said they did not look to encourage pupils to cycle to school because of safety concerns associated with busy surrounding streets. There was also the view, shared by one of the secondary schools and also a parent, in that the promotion of walking and cycling mainly happens in primary schools, reflecting the need to start to embed behaviour from an early age as otherwise it would be a challenge. This raises a mind-set issue of relevance when considering measures at secondary years and the type of approach. This said, one of the schools with a co-located primary and secondary campus highlighted an 'all-through school' model and there was less of a 'well we do this in secondary' approach.

"…and by the time pupils reach secondary school they have really covered most things regarding sustainable transport." (Secondary School Staff)

"I don't think the [secondary] school can do too much about it, I think it has to be more the primary schools, but it's also about people's locations, and what the parents' jobs are, and whether parents are willing to do it [drop them off]." (Secondary Pupil).

"They should do something at an early age e.g. primary school kids as leaving it to secondary school kids, it will probably be too late." (Secondary Pupil Parent)

In terms of transferability, initiatives were noted by delivery partners to have been developed with inclusiveness and participation very much in mind, both at the school and pupil level. For example, the inclusion of park and stride in the WOW Travel Tracker allows pupils with a longer journey to school and/or living in more rural catchments to still take part. Also, some schools are looking to provide pool bikes with the dual purpose of supporting PE lessons and also cycle training. These characteristics were reflected in the case study schools with all primary schools reporting that they are currently implementing several initiatives, suggesting geography and socio-economic factors were less significant compared to the school culture to embrace active travel. In this sense flexibility is key to ensure initiatives can be implemented and are widely accessible irrespective of the school and wider community setting.

The presence of measures to directly promote active travel were less evident at the secondary schools, reflecting in part the focus of initiatives at younger pupils. This said, initiatives such as Cycling Scotland's School Camps and led rides, illustrate measures and direct linkages that can be provided to feeder primary schools in local communities. The training and qualification aspect offered by some initiatives is also felt to be of particular value to complement curriculum links and encourage broader interest by older pupils.

Most of the initiatives were considered by schools and local authority staff to be transferable, and indeed, many are already taking place at the regional or national level. Some more bespoke local measures were noted to be potentially less transferable, either because they were related to very particular local events or due to local characteristics of the school setting and surrounding infrastructure or topography. For example, the introduction of School Streets would not be feasible in all school settings, with the evaluation undertaken by CEC highlighting streets providing a through route being more of a challenge and resource intensive to implement and enforce. Streets which are also particular trip attractors for other purposes, such as providing access to a medical centre, are also problematic in terms of the number of vehicle exemption permits required.

School Travel Plans

The majority of schools visited had developed a School Travel Plan ( STP), and typically the focus of this was on the pupil and parents travel behaviour, although often staff choices were also incorporated. However, these were promoted and communicated to parents to varying degrees, and also considered to have had differing impacts in terms of motivating behaviour change. For example, some schools felt the STP document itself had been helpful in providing a vision/ethos for the school and in encouraging parents to buy into this, whilst others felt that the STP itself had not been that useful but rather the behaviour change was driven by the initiatives that had been implemented and driven forward by the pupils and wider school community.

As noted in Chapter 6, at one of the schools the STP was identified to have been an important factor in facilitating measures to address parking issues at one of the case study schools. One school also commented they felt the STP was more effective for monitoring change rather than changing behaviours. This was somewhat echoed in the sentiment of a stakeholder who observed that for schools which have developed their STP the focus is on increasing active travel behaviour and monitoring activities. There was no strong indication that schools with a STP which was actively promoted resulted in notable differences in levels of active travel compared to schools without a Travel Plan or which don't actively promote their STP. This concurred with findings reported by the GCPH (2012) study. Other studies by, for example, Hinkson et al. (2011) have, however, found there to be a positive impact of STPs on increasing active travel. Evaluation of the Scottish Government's Smarter Choices, Smarter Places programme suggested that STPs were successful when they deliver practical benefits to participants like safe routes to schools (as well as sharing information and other targeting of initiatives).

In addition, it was observed by the research team that, even where STPs were in place, most schools were not active in monitoring/measuring the impact of these or behaviour changes, although most did note they participated in the annual HUSS and the Travel Tracker (as shown in the picture below, Living Streets 2016), both of which should allow them to track travel behaviour and changes.

Travel Tracker

"Yes [we do have a travel plan] and most importantly [it is aimed at] our parents, to raise the profile with our parents." (Primary School Staff)

"It's [the travel plan] raised the profile, we walk twice a week to school, we walk on a Wednesday and a Friday and that's supported by the staff, we walk from the church in the village and on those days the traffic is much reduced." (Primary School Staff)

"I would say that it's the other things we do, both within the Curriculum and extra-curricular activities, that are more effective in changing behaviour." (Secondary School Staff)

"The way that we respond to traffic issues has evolved, but it's not been because of the Travel Plan, it has been because we have had to develop strategies to deal with specific issues. We've had safety issues, and externally imposed issues such as roadworks and nearby development works, and all of these have forced us to take additional measures to restrict traffic coming on campus or to control it." (Secondary School Staff)

One local authority had incentivised the completion of STPs through a monetary award. To receive this reward STPs should be up to date, action groups must meet regularly, a yearly school travel survey needs to be undertaken as well as participation in HUSS, and actions/targets are current. It was also suggested by one stakeholder at the local authority level that strengthening the guidance around STPs in terms of how to approach them and monitor activity would be of benefit. Guidance would help to provide a benchmark to achieve greater consistency and within a framework of graduated Travel Planning depending on where schools were at and reflecting different priorities and needs taking account of school characteristics.

Sustaining Behaviour Change

There were mixed views from both pupils and parents regarding the impact of the various travel/behaviour change initiatives implemented in the case study schools. Levels of success were generally impacted by the different factors influencing how pupils travel the way they do. For example, distance to school and convenience were particularly important aspects.

"Do not make a difference…you walk/scoot to school no matter what." (Primary School Parent)

"The Big Pedal and Bikeability are really good, but I didn't think much of them as I cycle every day anyway." (Primary Pupil)

"The school will never be a place where everybody walks there and back to school, I have clubs and after school clubs and for me to be on time I have to get driven." (Primary Pupil)

"Yes, because you are conscious of the fact that if you do not walk you have to tell the teacher you did not walk." (Primary School Parent)

"It encourages children to cycle more, especially because your friends start doing it a little bit of culture builds up." (Primary School Parent)

"Definitely…they encourage me to think more about walking you and your brother to school." (Primary School Parent)

"On the day that pupils walk, there is a reduction in parking and car use around the school by parents." (Primary School Staff)

Campaigns/events were highlighted to have a particular impact on travel, but with normal behaviour often returning afterwards. It was also commented that initiatives and accolades which provide steps to build upon are more progressive and can be embedded at the school level compared to other initiatives which are more short-term/one-off.

"When there is an event, definitely more children are walking/cycling/scooting to school but after it is done the numbers fall away." (Primary School Parent)

"They only work during this particular week, because every other time people are going back to driving." (Secondary School Parent)

"There will be 'The Big Pedal' and loads of people will bring their scooters and bikes and then about 2 weeks after that they will be back in the car again." (Primary Pupil)

"It [a park and stride initiative] does well when it's promoted but then it's forgotten about, and in the winter months it's a disaster." (Primary School Staff)

"That's a brilliant initiative that we just wouldn't have the man-power to accommodate otherwise, but it's going to be a one-off, and that's not enough to make a habit change." (Primary School Staff)

"I think in order for there to be some kind of a habit change there needs to be an initiative that runs for a period of time." (Primary School Staff)

In terms of what is effective in sustaining change, initiatives which are ongoing with regular activity at the pupil level and with periodic events/competitions so schools 'feel they are part of something bigger' were considered to be key aspects. As well as the nature of the initiative, there also needs to be a continued push within the school community to ensure participation continues with the aim to increase this as active travel becomes more embedded within the school culture and ethos over time. Central to this is an internal champion and their commitment and enthusiasm to maintain momentum to achieve continued success and sustain participation in initiatives and corresponding levels of active travel. A review of school active travel initiatives in other countries, including Northern Ireland, Australia and Canada, also highlight the importance of champions within the school setting to sustain momentum to initiatives and travel by active modes.

Appropriate support is also required in terms of funding and resource locally. The importance of resources and school culture is further considered in Chapters 7 and 8.


Pupils involved in the research from the participating schools largely exhibited travel patterns reflective of national trends, characterised by a tendency for more journeys to be undertaken by active modes at primary school level and for bus to feature more in the travel of secondary pupils. Distance and associated catchment areas at the secondary schools were particularly reflected in mode choice. Home circumstances where pupils' parents had separated also had a bearing on travel. Across both primary and secondary schools, the weather was not a particular factor in terms of mode choice, although some pupils who walked/cycled did comment they would go by car or park and stride if it was raining or snowing, whilst others noted they altered their route (although not their mode) during the winter months.

There was variation between primary schools regarding how pupils travelled to school when younger. In some instances, car travel had been more prevalent, with those now walking/cycling previously having been driven, but in other instances active modes had prevailed throughout. Secondary pupils generally reflected that they had travelled more actively to school when at primary school.

At the majority of schools there had been active participation in national level programmes to promote travel behaviour change. The initiatives were well received and overall viewed positively across different school settings, although the difficulty in sustaining longer term impact was raised as a consideration. Active travel was also typically considered as good, providing health and environmental benefits, as well as the opportunity to socialise with friends. Cultural and social attitudes are considered in more detail in Chapter 8.


Email: Veronica Smith

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