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Schools stalling on sustainability despite it being ‘a top priority’

Amidst ongoing challenges, research from school transport specialist Kura reveals that sustainability is taking a backseat for school leaders, highlighting a disconnect between targets and action. 

Despite carbon footprint reduction being a top priority for 42% of school leaders, there is little action being taken, particularly when it comes to the carbon-emitting school run.

Just 9% plan to invest in buying or leasing new electric vehicles this year, 7% in car share initiatives and 27% in cycling and walking schemes.

Credit: Kura

Research also highlights concerns regarding levels of traffic and pollution around the school gates. Unicef’s Toxic School Run report found that children are disproportionately exposed to higher doses of pollution during the school run and research by Admiral revealed that, during term time, there are 68% more accidents occurring during morning school run hours.

Encouragingly, 66% of school leaders agree that levels of pollution and congestion at peak hours need to be cut and 62% believe that the number of parents driving children to school should be reduced. 

When asked about the future of the school run, 34% of school leaders said they expect to see more electric vehicles, 27% think there will be more shared transport (coach and minibuses) and nearly half (43%) believe walking and cycling infrastructure will be developed.

However, of the 250 school leaders surveyed, just 34% say that their school is part of a scheme to reduce traffic. Whilst schemes such as School Streets are growing in popularity, with over 300 educational establishments introducing them in the UK, it’s clear that the majority of schools still have action to take to reduce congestion around the school gates.

The research also found that just 28% of the schools surveyed currently provide a home to school service and only 6% have invested in improving school transport in the last year. When one 49-seater school coach can take as many as 31 cars of the road*, provision of school transport can be key to schools’ sustainability efforts.

Commenting on the findings, Godfrey Ryan, CEO of Kura, said: “Schools are undoubtably under pressure to make budgets stretch further and shifting priorities are leading to a stall in action when it comes to sustainability. 

“However, our research highlights a disconnect between what school leaders expect to see and what they’re investing in. For example, 34% believe that there will be more electric vehicles for school transport in the next three years, but just 9% intend to invest in this area.

“With the government expected to introduce sustainability targets for schools from 2025 and research revealing worrying levels of pollution around the school gates, school leaders can’t afford to put the brakes on reducing emissions. 

“To help tackle the issue, schools can invest in school transport, car share schemes and initiatives to reduce traffic at peak pick up and drop off times. A quarter of rush hour traffic can be attributed to the school run and this can be significantly reduced with the right measures in place.

“Transport technology also has a role to play. For example, route optimisation means that drivers can take the most efficient route to pick up students, shortening the school journey and reducing emissions. 

“It’s no longer just a sustainability issue. Whilst schools have a vital role to play in reducing emissions, high levels of traffic and pollution also pose a significant safeguarding risk to students and the local community. As a result, schools must get on board with the school run revolution.”

  • Average car occupancy of 1.5 passengers per vehicle
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