Schools urged to act on air pollution

New research reveals that halving air pollution could see a 50% reduction in the number of children with poor lung function

A new initiative has been launched in a bid to tackle air pollution in and around schools.

The Clean Air for Schools Framework – the result of a coalition between Global Action Plan, the Philips Foundation, Living Streets, Modeshift Stars and Mums for Lungs – is a free online tool offering a wide variety of ideas about how teachers, headteachers, parents and local authorities can combat air pollution in and around schools.

The move follows publication of research by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), indicating that a halving of outdoor air pollution could lead to a 20-50% reduction in the number of children with poor lung function across the UK.

The team’s studies also concluded that cleaner air resulting from the coronavirus lockdown had seen asthma attacks in children all but disappear.

“We conducted our analysis by looking at all published scientific studies between 2010 and 2020 in which air pollution reductions had been achieved and had a positive impact on children’s health,” said the report’s author, Dr Abigail Whitehouse.

She explained that the Children’s Health Study in California found that a 50% reduction in pollution levels reduced the number of children with poor lung function which affects their everyday lives by half. “Current evidence suggests that if we could create similar reductions in the UK that we would find similar significant reductions,” she said.

“If we wish to improve our children’s health, we need to act now to continue the reductions in pollutants that were seen over the lockdown period.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union welcomed the new resource: “The NEU continues to be hugely concerned about the impact of air pollution on children and therefore welcomes this new resource which will help raise awareness of the impact of air pollution and also help schools to take practical steps to improve their own environment.”

If we wish to improve our children’s health, we need to act now – Dr Abigail Whitehouse, Queen Mary University of London

More than 2,000 schools, nurseries and further education centres in the UK are said to be located in air pollution hotspots. Besides its effects on lung function development and asthma, air pollution is increasingly thought to have an adverse impact on the brain, such as reduced memory facility.

Moreover, Global Action Plan’s recent Build Back Cleaner Air report concluded that air pollution can worsen underlying health conditions and thus make people more susceptible to complications from Covid-19.

The coalition behind the Clean Air for Schools Framework is calling for concerted action by national and local government, driven by a legally binding target to meet World Health Organization limits.

Schools, meanwhile, are being urged to take action in three key areas:

  • Reducing air pollution from their own activities, including the school run
  • Teaching young people – and, by extension, their families – how to make cleaner air choices
  • Becoming a local leader on air pollution, working with neighbourhood partners to improve air quality in the area


The London Borough of Hackney is being hailed as a cleaner air exemplar, following a series of grassroots initiatives and the pioneering of School Streets, the scheme whereby motorised traffic on roads outside schools is temporarily restricted at drop-off and pick-up times.

Since its launch, figures from Hackney show vehicle emissions outside schools were down by 74%, motorised traffic levels down 68%, and the number of children commuting by bicycle up 51%.

This month sees the borough roll out the scheme to nearly all of its primary schools, together with the introduction of more than 20 traffic filters.

8 October will see the delayed running of Global Action Plan’s annual Clean Air Day. Interested parties are invited to try out such air quality-improving initiatives as car-free travel and closing school-adjacent streets to hold a street party.

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