New research released for Clean Air Day (8 October) has revealed that a majority of parents in London are concerned about air pollution on their child’s journey to school, and around the school gates.

68 per cent of parents in London expressed concern, compared to just 40 per cent of parents nationwide. Of the parents who drive their children to school, 36 per cent said they were concerned about air pollution.

The research was commissioned by Living Streets, the UK charity behind Walk to School Week (5-9 October). The charity is campaigning for measures to support parents to choose healthier and cleaner ways to travel.

Research released on Monday (5 October) for Living Streets’ Walk to School Week found support from London parents for safer crossings (57%), 20mph speed limits (51%), car-free zones around schools (43%) and efforts to reduce rat-running (41%).

School gates

The London parents polled believed the biggest benefits of walking to school for their children were being physically fitter (84%), getting fresh air (77%), and reducing congestion (71%).

Despite these benefits, less than half of primary school children currently walk to school. The Government’s £250 million fund for emergency active travel measures has attracted controversy in places, but the poll reveals a “silent majority” are in favour. Living Streets is campaigning for action to encourage families to choose to walk, scoot or cycle to school.

Mary Creagh, Chief Executive, Living Streets said:

“Every child should be able to walk to school safely, and enjoy the fresh air, freedom, friendship and fun that it brings.  Our research shows that parents who drive were less worried about air pollution but children in cars can be exposed to up to 15 times the levels of air pollution, from sitting in congestion, compared to children who walk.

“Walking to school is one positive change that parents can make to protect every child from London’s dirty air.

“Across our city, there is a silent majority of parents in favour of safer crossings and slower speeds, but too often their voices are drowned out by a vocal minority who often live outside the area.”

We’d like more parents to know that driving a child in a car typically exposes them to more pollution than walking because cars eat up pollution as they drive around like pac-man.

Chris Large, Co-CEO, Global Action Plan

Clean Air Day (8 October) is co-ordinated by Global Action Plan.

Chris Large, Co-CEO, Global Action Plan:

“Returning to school this autumn has been more anxiety inducing for parents than ever. But many ingenious schools and parent groups are finding ways to get children to school safely and with cleaner air in their lungs.

“We’d like more parents to know that driving a child in a car typically exposes them to more pollution than walking because cars eat up pollution as they drive around like pac-man.

“The healthiest way to get to school is walking, cycling or scooting, through green space or backstreets wherever possible. It’s not always possible, but especially with more parents working from home, perhaps they now have time to give a car-free school drop-off a try.”

Will Norman, London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner, said

“Walking to school is a fantastic way for the whole family to get some fresh air and exercise and make a real difference to local air quality, as well as playing an important role in reducing road danger and carbon emissions.

“The Coronavirus pandemic has reminded us how vital improving London’s air quality is for our health, and it’s now more important than ever that all of us find ways of walking and cycling more often, to help avoid a damaging car-led recovery.

“To help this, we’re working closely with boroughs across the capital to make local streets and roads outside schools safer, including funding more than 400 Schools Streets. 

“Walk to School Week is a brilliant opportunity to try out a new way of getting to school and I hope that the changes we’re making to the capital’s streets give pupils and parents the confidence to walk, cycle and scoot more often."