Tackling the school run: research study

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

Chapter 7 - Success Factors and Challenges


This chapter considers the key factors to promoting and encouraging school pupils to travel by active and sustainable modes to and from school. Consideration is shaped around success factors in the planning and delivery of initiatives as well as current and future challenges all of which emerged from the research.

School Level Engagement

The involvement and enthusiasm of school staff to champion initiatives and sustainable travel more generally was felt to be integral to the success of initiatives by both local authority officers and wider delivery partners. Leadership and designated responsibility amongst school staff and pupils was highlighted as a key to successfully embedding active travel. School staff also recognised the need and value of having the staff on-board across the school community as far as possible.

This was paralleled in sentiments echoed by school staff in highlighting the importance of external support for initiatives and to also help get the wider staff community on board as well as parents. The value of on the ground and dedicated resource reflected across different groups is highlighted in the following quotes -

"The local road safety post is crucial….the role used to have a delivery focus, but more now about facilitating and providing resources while trying to get schools to take these on board and more ownership….this is great, but schools still need support and advice even if just in an advisory capacity… " (Stakeholder)

"The thing that makes the different to compared to other schools is having the commitment from staff." (Local Authority Officer)

"The initiatives are transferable, but the key success to it is the leadership. It's definitely getting people involved and getting the right people involved in it (the initiative) that will champion it." (Local Authority Officer)

"It means that it is not just about the school saying it (the initiative)…if it's from the Scottish Government or local authority then the kudos that comes from that gains more respect and means it will (the initiative) have a higher success rate." (Primary School Staff)

It was also commented by one local authority officer they had experience of other schools 'putting up barriers to pupils travelling actively to school'. The example was given of a school (not within the case study list) not supportive of pupils cycling to school until they had undertaken Bikeability training which currently doesn't start until Primary 5.

School level engagement is also important from a cultural dimension which is discussed further in Chapter 8.

Incentives, Competition and Reward

Introducing a competitive aspect to initiatives to promote and encourage more sustainable travel by pupils was felt to have a significant positive impact by stakeholders. This can be both within and between schools. One example was Living Street's WOW Badge Design competition (as shown in the photo below) and also the Walk of Fame which takes place during the Walk to School week every May and also in the shoulder week before and after. The initiative is on an opt-in basis and results show a marked upturn in active travel in participating schools and the initiative has proven to be highly competitive with 50% of the school roll recording travel beforehand which can increase up to 80 to 90% during Walk of Fame. Similarly, The Big Pedal was cited by both stakeholders and school staff as a popular initiative.

"Competition and incentivisation can be particularly successful e.g. The Big Pedal." (Stakeholder)

"Schools feeling they are part of something bigger is critical." (Stakeholder)

"It [Travel Tracker] brings out the competitor in you." (Primary Pupil)

"Sometimes we do like competitions [within the school] to see what class has been the most active." (Primary Pupil)

"The only thing is when you have a good school, you need to show them off. Schools are quite competitive, they like to what others are doing and get involved, so it helps to show them how easy it can be done." (Local Authority Staff)

"You can see them trying to compete with each other, and trying to get that competitive edge to them, which is good for us as it tends to help them all get a little bit more actively involved." (Local Authority Staff)

The incentive and reward aspect was also highlighted by primary pupils and staff - "It's not that you really want the badge, but you want the achievement of getting one" (Primary Pupil). Parents also recognised the impetus of competition and rewards, including the award of school house points when pupils travel actively. At one of the schools this approach had also been taken outside the school gate through, for example, "…a monthly homework sheet with a focus, like a family challenge…so one month we will put like a focus on health or a focus on eco…" (Primary School Staff).

The incentive and reward aspect

Some local authorities have also further incentivised participation in initiatives. For example, one school had received high-vis vests/badges from their local authority for pupils taking part in WOW which helped to also promote the initiative to parents/pupils not already involved. Pupils who took part in WOW regularly at the school were also provided with active play equipment (weighted hula hoops, rugby balls, footballs etc), to provide an extra reward and to encourage more pupils to take part.

In discussing park and stride and related rewards, variance in associated walk times/distance was noted. The Department of Health (2011) Start Active, Stay Active report was noted to recommend 10 minutes as the minimum duration of physical activity which will have a positive contribution to health and subsequently recommended in literature regarding setting up a park and stride scheme.

Findings reported on the impact of competition based initiatives, such as the Walk of Fame, concur with views shared in the fieldwork undertaken as part of this study. Information on the National STARS Award scheme in England also indicated positive impacts of an award based scheme in terms of encouraging active travel. The wider literature review also identified competitions and rewards to be a key and important theme of initiatives in other locations, including other European and international school settings.

Flexibility of Initiatives

Providing initiatives which are flexible and can be adapted to the school environment was identified as of importance by stakeholders and initiatives should continue to be developed with this in mind. For example, WOW is based on promoting active travel on at least one day a week with the ambition being higher and flexibility built into the Travel Tracker for schools to change the threshold for pupils to receive a badge for travelling by an active mode to/from school. The WOW initiative had also been adopted by one school on a group basis with pupils meeting in the centre of the village to walk as part of a 'walking bus' with staff to the school on two mornings a week.

The JRSO scheme has also been developed with flexibility in mind:

"We are not prescriptive at all and, as schools will have their own local priorities, it is entirely up to the school how much they do and how." (Stakeholder)

Pupil Acceptance and Engagement

Another key driver of success was widely considered to be the level of engagement and buy-in from the pupils. This was highlighted as a key requirement by staff across most of the case study schools. Most staff felt that if pupils became engaged and excited by an initiative then they would "drag their parents along with them" (Primary School Staff).

"A request in the newsletter doesn't seem to result in much of a change, it's definitely more successful when it comes from the children, or there's an element of competition involved." (Primary School Staff)

Some pupils also noted that, when they wanted to take part in a particular school initiative they would convince their parents to change their travel behaviour for a short period. This included parking further away from the school than normal so they could park and stride in order to take part in WOW, or to bring their bike in the car boot so that they could park and cycle the last part of their journey in order to join in with the Big Pedal.

A number of local pupil lead initiatives were also considered to have been successful due to the visible nature of the pupil involvement. One such initiative was a speeding campaign designed to tackle drivers speed on the road outside the school gate. The school worked in partnership with Community Police Officers, who attended the school with speed guns. The JRSOs wore high-vis vests and accompanied the officers at the front of the school to use the speed gun. The fact that small children were standing outside a school using a speed gun was felt to be particularly noteworthy for motorists. This campaign was considered to be highly successful, and received coverage in both local and national press.

Peer to Peer Engagement

Similarly, empowering pupils to have responsibility was considered a key driver of success in terms of initiatives, partly because "children will always want to do what their peers are doing." (Primary School Staff). The JRSO scheme was popular in the case study schools and identified by staff as having a wider benefit than simply raising road safety awareness, but also in terms of building wider life skills and general confidence:

"The JRSOs this year are also a little quieter than last year's ones and not as confident or outspoken. They are probably kids though that will benefit even more than last year's [ JRSOs] from actually having the role of doing it and having that responsibility." (Primary School Staff)

One of the stakeholders also commented that discussions regarding a pupil Active Travel Champion role had taken place previously. At this time, it was identified the best mechanism to introduce such a role would be via an existing scheme.

Peer engagement is further discussed from an attitudinal perspective in Chapter 8.

Inter-Initiative Linkages

A joined up approach was highlighted in the planning and implementation of measures. This was noted to be facilitated through delivery partners meeting twice a year and also at the same frequency with the School Travel Professional network. This type of platform provides the opportunity to share experiences and also ensure different programmes are inter-linked and opportunities maximised to tackle the school run and thus increase the number of pupils travelling by active and public transport.

A recurring theme was for resources underpinning initiatives to not be standalone, but rather to dovetail with each other. For example, upper secondary pupils engaging with Cycling Scotland's School Camps initiative leave the week long residential course with a Cycle Trainer accreditation. Pupils are encouraged to apply this knowledge by volunteering to help deliver Bikeability training at feeder primary schools in their school catchment area and/or undertake led rides for primary pupils to show them safe cycle routes before moving to their new secondary school.

Road Safety Scotland initiatives are also developed to complement each other. For example, Junior Road Safety Officers ( JRSOs) involvement with early years is encouraged through, for example, reading the Go Safe with Ziggy Journey storybooks to nursery pupils. In one school, JRSOs were also responsible for judging the annual WOW badge competition entries and selecting one from each age band to submit to represent their school.

Another aspect raised was the inter-relationship between transport and other wider initiatives. Several of the primary schools noted they participated in The Daily Mile, which first started at a school in Stirling and was subsequently rolled out nationwide by Active Schools Scotland in 2016 with the aim to improve the physical, emotional and social health and well-being of children. Active travel to school can make a direct contribution to these outcomes, but the initiative was noted by one stakeholder to have been highlighted by some schools as the reason they are not participating in school related active travel initiatives this year. With a sport and exercise orientated focus, it appears there is not a direct connection more widely in terms of linkage with everyday activity such as walking and cycling to school and related initiatives. This highlights the opportunity and need for better integration between transport and complementary policy initiatives and communication of this to avoid them being viewed as mutually exclusive.

"To have a continued and long-lasting impact, any blanket push of an initiative should not be at the exclusion of other programmes." (Stakeholder)

"I think it is a great idea, especially for the younger ones, normally in the Daily Mile they walk instead, but if they are walking it gets them fit as well." (Primary Pupil)

Furthermore, with an increasing time burden on staff, presenting different initiatives in an integrated manner and explaining how they complement each other and support learning is of particular consideration for the future planning and delivery of initiatives which cut across different policy areas.

The policy review undertaken as part of the study and summarised in Chapter 2 highlights the cross-cutting nature of the school run and transport more widely. This presents opportunities in terms of messages around the benefits of active travel, particularly in terms of health and the environment. It also provides opportunity in terms of collaboration of funding and resources which is particularly pertinent where opportunities may be constrained.

Linking to the Curriculum

Many of the national and local initiatives have an increasing Curriculum dimension to embrace how the school journey and transport more widely can be translated into learning. At the primary level, for example, Bikeability is accompanied by a series of 10 lesson plans mapped to various outcomes of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). The WOW initiative is also accompanied by resource packs for teachers. Eco-Schools is also recognised to be a programme which sustainable travel can positively contribute towards.

As well as providing the resources, proactively communicating the learning opportunities and linkages to the CfE is of importance and also in terms of countering perceptions of the time factor associated with initiatives and additional burden posed. In response, as an example Road Safety Scotland undertake to send all education establishments the Road Safety within Curriculum for Excellence booklet annually. This provides teachers with a quick and easy reference to RSS resources and how these link with CfE experiences and outcomes, and offers opportunities for active and disciplinary learning with "the inter-disciplinary nature of Education a common feedback theme" being highlighted by one stakeholder.

One stakeholder also observed that for the initiatives they oversee and for transport more widely, the challenge is that there are so many Curriculum linked options at primary level in particular. This was felt to be another reason why School Travel Professionals are important as they can regularly highlight and repeat messages around the Curriculum links directly to schools.

The need to keep material relevant and up to date and interesting was noted by all the delivery partner stakeholders. The Annual Scottish Learning Festival was highlighted by one stakeholder to provide the opportunity to gather direct feedback on resources from teachers as well as to raise awareness of initiatives and related learning opportunities.

"Keeping material up to date and relevant to the pupils you are trying to engage with…It is also important there is not the view things are being forced….flexibility and activities being interactive to allow pupils to take the initiative and use the resources is important." (Stakeholder)

Several of the case study schools had integrated transport into classroom learning. Examples cited included French lessons which involved sustainable transport and climate change topics in Geography in secondary learning. At one of the primary schools the example was given where pupils have completed their own traffic surveys, measured data and presented findings, alongside doing some work in the classroom about the environment and healthy lifestyles.

These examples highlight where and how transport is being incorporated into learning and the cross-curricular nature of subject areas involved. Transport can and does play a role in learning including across current areas of concern in terms of attainment, such as the recent results of the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy showing a decline in P4 and S2 pupils performing 'well or very well' in maths between 2013 and 2015.

Other publications and programmes, such as the Department for Health's Road Injury Prevention Resource published in 2016 and active school travel initiatives in other countries including Northern Ireland and Canada also cite the merits associated with curriculum links.

"We have registration in our tutor groups and sometimes we discuss alternative ways to travel to school…" (Secondary Pupil)

In addition to formal links to the Curriculum of Excellence, one local authority noted that many of the travel based initiatives provided wider learning opportunities and experiences. Similarly, one local stakeholder also noted that the service they provide, delivering bike maintenance workshops to pupils, offers the opportunity for less academic/more practically minded pupils to 'shine'. Similarly, Cycling Scotland's School Camp initiative has less of an academic basis, but rather a wider learning and life skills focus for pupils.

"That's why I think [name of school] has worked so well, because they have obviously seen there's a benefit, not just in terms of tackling congestion, but also learning experience as well for the pupils. So they have taken on-board quite a lot of projects, everything that we've offered them they've been willing to do, and to do the work themselves." (Local Authority Officer)

"Some of the kids that might not necessarily be quite so educationally minded, they are perhaps more practical and physical tend to have really good balance skills and get a bit of kudos, where normally they'd be sitting in the classroom be the one that's not really looked up to, but on a bike they might have a few more motor skills, balance and control which are the skills that the other kids don't have." (Stakeholder)

"The kids love the practical nature of it [Bikeability and bike maintenance]." (Stakeholder)


Effective communication was felt to be key across different parts of the school community. This includes school to parent messages and also school to local authority relations.

All the schools undertook regular, direct communication with parents which was acknowledged as the common means through which they heard about initiatives. This was mainly through regular Newsletters/e-mails with some schools also using social media such as Twitter, Facebook or a bespoke blog on their school website. The communications were cited as a platform through which transport related issues were raised with parking often being a key topic area as well as the way in which the school also informs parents about upcoming transport related training and events.

Other communication mechanisms cited include:

  • Transport Management Group - led by the Chair of the Parent Council and with involvement of the local authority and Elected Members allowed collective discussions and for different perspectives to be shared and discussed - the example of a zebra or pelican crossing was highlighted where "The local authority brought a different perspective to the discussion which we perhaps hadn't considered." (Secondary School Staff); and
  • Parent Staff Councils/Liaison Groups - identified to provide a platform to discuss travel and transport related matters as well as facilitating the parent to parent messages.

A recurring theme around communication was the involvement of pupils to promote measures, such as the School Travel Plan and also the distribution of leaflets. This approach was felt by staff to be more effective compared to just school staff sending out messages to parents, with pupil based "Pester Power" often a key influencing factor on parental views and behaviour. Examples from the case study schools included JRSOs at one of the primary schools being involved in handing out leaflets and flyers about changes being brought forward by the School Streets Pilot and also placing 'thank you for parking smartly' stickers on cars parked with consideration.

Also, difficult conversations with parents about drop-off and parking in the vicinity of the school gate were felt to benefit from wider input beyond the immediate school, such as through the local authority:

"As a Head Teacher you don't want to alienate your gate, so you've got to be very careful how you say you don't park there…so she [ LA Officer] would have the difficult conversations with them for me as such with some people, it was good to have two people…..if you have a presence they will stay away and not park there, but as soon as the presence isn't there then old habits come back." (Primary School Staff)

Education Involvement

At present, local authority officers with a remit for promoting sustainable and active school travel often sit outside the Education teams with roles based in Transportation, Sustainability or other teams. The strengthening of links with Education was highlighted as an important aspect by stakeholders. A consideration for the future is approaching schools more via the Education department and for direct Education to Education dialogue to help encourage schools to participate in initiatives to reduce the number of pupils travelling by car, as well as to promote the associated benefits of doing so and the wider cross-Curriculum links of different national and local initiatives.

The relationship with and backing of Education within local authorities is felt to provide a platform which helps to strengthen the participation in initiatives and delivering the sustainable travel message to schools with benefits demonstrated where this has occurred. This was observed from both a local authority and wider stakeholder perspective.

"There needs to be more of a commitment from education themselves, they need to be saying to Head Teachers and teachers in general, this is a good thing, there are other benefits, there are curriculum links so get on board with it." (Local Authority Officer)

"There are a couple of areas where the Bikeability coordinators sit in education and what a transformation there is in terms of just getting messages out…this is why we are very keen to take a much stronger case to education teams rather than just transport - the activities are in school time…so there is a natural fit." (Stakeholder)

"In hindsight, we probably should have contacted our colleagues in Education and Children's Services as we hatched the idea. We actually went straight to the schools and found out that it was more complicated than we'd thought. This year we have already approached ECS and got their backing at a Senior Management Level - this is already helping us to get the schools on board this year. We've created a much longer lead-in." (Local Authority Officer)

"It does also help that, within the local authority we have [name of contact] and they really push it. He's within Education, he's not in the Road Safety Team, he's not with Active Schools, he's with Education. Having him in that post really opens up the talking to teachers at that same level, which opens up the whole Bikeability prospect.…We work across four different local authorities and I've seen the differences, so how well it works in [name of authority 1] and how poorly it works in [name of authority 2]. And that's quite important because [name of authority 2] has an awfully low percentage of people taking Bikeability compared to [name of authority 1] which is very high, and the reason is because it comes through Education and not through Road Safety." (Stakeholder)

"That's probably the biggest lesson is how Bikeability is delivered and where it is delivered from." (Stakeholder)

Continued representation of Education on forums, such as the School Travel Coordinator/Professional forum and Cycling and Young People Group, was highlighted as activity which should be encouraged more widely and supported.

Capacity and Sustained Resource

The loss of dedicated teams and resources at the local level is a key issue and was raised by school staff, local authority officers and delivery partners. This in particular concerns the School Travel Professional and Road Safety Officer roles. The loss of Police resource was also mentioned by some stakeholders and the impact, both in terms of presence at school drop-off/pick-up times to monitor activity and enforce parking/access restrictions as well as school visits to speak to pupils about road safety.

The championing of dedicated officers and networks, such as the School Travel Professional ( STP) network, was highlighted. While there is representation from local authorities across Scotland on the network, the point was made that there are now fewer dedicated STPs than there used to be and an increasing trend of school travel and road safety being embedded as part of wider roles, such as Health and Well-being and Active Travel Officer roles. Examples given, included officers with a remit for sustainable school travel, also having responsibility for road safety and wider policy areas such as healthy eating.

The increasing time pressure on stretched resources was felt to be impacting on the delivery of initiatives. An example given was there not being the full uptake of Bikeability funding in the past two years, in part because one of the qualifying criteria requires a named contact with identified roles and responsibilities.

To address this issue, some delivery partners are looking to how they can assist, such as through mentoring support and the central distribution of resources. However, close working with local authorities and between partners will always be integral and of importance to retain the local dimension through establishing local contacts and providing links to other local initiatives.

In discussing resources, the time pressure on parents was highlighted and the challenge this can bring in identifying volunteers to, for example, assist with Walking Buses and in-school cycle training.


Funding was considered both as vital for the implementation and success of initiatives and encouraging behaviour change, but also as one of the key challenges faced.

"If we hadn't had funding from [name of partner] for cycle parking there wouldn't be bikes there. If we hadn't managed to help them with any of the Balanceability or Bikeability or things like that then I don't know how comfortable parents would feel about them cycling." (Local Authority Staff)

"Funding and support, and having them both together, is vital." (Local Authority Staff)

Funding arrangements for the delivery of initiatives are generally via local authorities which was felt to make sense and most effective as officers know the local area and are familiar with schools in terms of informing decision-making regarding specific allocations. A number of local initiatives are funded through Smarter Choices Smarter Places funding awards to deliver national programmes, such as WOW, I-Bike and Bikeability training, locally as well as bespoke initiatives such as community engagement and local route mapping to support and encourage sustainable and active travel.

The requirement for match funding was highlighted as a challenge for local authorities, particularly in regard to Smarter Choices Smarter Places funding which cannot be matched with other Transport Scotland/Scottish Government funding. A move towards more consideration of contributory funding and also 'value in kind', particularly where local authority officer capacity is reduced, would potentially provide a more accessible funding platform to support the delivery of school initiatives.

The timing of funding awards and different timeframes associated with council budgets and the school calendar was highlighted as a factor. Delays in funding can have a direct bearing on initiatives and specifically being able to plan and implement measures in Term 4 of the school year which are targeted at pupils before they move to secondary school after the summer. More alignment between funding cycles and the academic year was suggested to help with the planning and delivery of initiatives as well as the monitoring of impacts.

The longevity of programmes and initiatives was felt to provide some assurance funding will be provided despite the short-term nature of funding awards, but with a need to be "resourceful and canny in sourcing budgets" (Stakeholder) and the mix of different sources increasing. Other funding streams highlighted included the People's Postcode Trust's 'Dream Fund' which was used to deliver Cycling Scotland's Play on Pedals two-year pilot to enable pre-school children across Glasgow to learn to ride a bike and also Junior Climate Challenge Fund.

Concerns over future funding provision was also raised. One local authority cited the availability of the Scottish Government's Air Quality fund to support transport related projects with it being suggested that focus would now be diverted to other policy areas.


The research has identified there are varied and key requirements to the success of school travel based initiatives. Key factors include:

  • School level engagement and interest, mirrored by support from the local authority;
  • Engaging pupils in the initiatives, both peer to peer and in terms of 'taking messages home' around the opportunity and benefits of active travel within the school setting;
  • Infrastructure, training and behaviour change happening in tandem or at least the building blocks being in place to facilitate active and sustainable transport; and
  • Capacity and resource, with an emphasis on a dedicated team or officer, to support the school to enable active and sustainable travel and with greater involvement from Education departments.

Resource constraints and the availability of funding are the expected biggest challenge to continued time and implementation of initiatives to support and embed sustainable travel behaviour in the school pupils of Scotland. Competing pressures on school staff and local authority officers and different priorities will also have a factor. Greater emphasis is required on the inter-linkages between transport and learning as well as transport and other policy initiatives with remits to improve the health and well-being, and physical activity of school children in Scotland.


Email: Veronica Smith

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