A growing number of schools across Oxfordshire are active on environmental issues. High on the list for many is the issue of air pollution, with schools being near to roads with heavy traffic. Pollution is also made worse by many people driving children to school and causing congestion in nearby streets.
There is some good work being done on these issues – for example, many schools have run Walk to School programmes through the WOW initiative and the City Council has worked on anti-idling campaigns with six schools. It also seems that others are linking work on pollution and travel to their ‘eco-schools’ and ‘green group’ programmes.
Oxford Friends of the Earth led this work on behalf of CoHSAT, conducting a survey of schools in the county, with the aim of setting up an Oxfordshire Schools Clean Air Network, OxSCAN. Most schools in the county have a School Travel Plan, which sets out an plan of action to reduce car use, manage traffic-related issues, and encourage a mix of walking, cycling and bus journeys to school, as appropriate for that individual school. The plans need regular updating and implementing if they are to be effective. This project involved collating information on existing active travel plans from all schools in Oxfordshire and supporting schools with updating their plans, so that best practice can be disseminated.
Many of the 300 maintained schools in Oxfordshire were included in a survey, to establish their existing active travel plans. Their responses and other contacts (e.g. to PTAs) have resulted in a database of 55 schools positively interested in active travel. Most of the focus has been on primary schools, as a higher percentage of pupils are taken to school by parents. The schools have been provided with examples of best practice through the creation of a website, with information on different initiatives and resources, for instance “Walk to School” (County Council), Anti-idling and Schools Tackling Air Pollution (City Council) and School Streets. The latter is a traffic ban outside schools during peak times to cut pollution and congestion.
A follow-up survey of 50+ schools was undertaken to establish if the schools have developed their plans for active travel. A competition for children to design an active travel banner to hang on the school gates was launched in January 2020, in partnership with Oxford City Council. The best 10 banners will be made for the schools to reinforce their messages.
Oxfordshire County Council announced more spending on air quality around schools in direct response to the OxFoE and CoHSAT seminar on 20 June 2019 (Oxford Mail, 9 January 2020).
Lynn Knapp, head teacher at Windmill primary school in Oxford, discusses their recent Clean Air Day. Pupils were in Oxford’s Bonn Square with banners, handing out leaflets to drivers to urge them to turn off idling engines. The anti-idling campaign is an ongoing initiative from Oxford City Council and Oxford Friends of the Earth, and Windmill Primary is one of a number of schools that have received lessons and learning materials as part of the campaign.
The school children also learned more about air pollution and the climate crisis through Schools Tackling Oxford Air Pollution (STOP), a City Council sponsored project which involves children in understanding and tackling the issue through the school curriculum. The programme involves pupils in measuring pollution around their school, teaching them about the health impacts and educating them about ways they can help reduce pollution by encouraging walking, cycling and public transport