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Our work with schools

Much of the work we do with schools centres on the following themes. Find out about specific air quality campaigns for local schools.

Travel planning

How children travel to school is really important both for the children’s health and wellbeing and because it can impact local air pollution levels.

Research carried out by the Environmental Research Group, concluded that generally children were exposed to higher levels of air pollution when travelling to and from school, particularly during the morning rush hour, when compared to being at school. You can read more about the study on the Imperial College London and partner Breathe London websites. Monitoring carried out by the council has confirmed that levels of air pollution are highest during the morning rush hour. This means that immediate action can be taken to lower personal exposure by walking, cycling or scootering (known collectively as active travel) and using low-pollution side roads for travel to and from school.

Active travel is strongly encouraged because car emissions add to levels of background air pollution around schools whilst active travel does not create pollution. Walking, cycling and scootering can help reduce obesity and increase fitness levels, and so are the healthiest and least polluting choices.

Further information related to active travel modes is provided by the links below:

We have a School Travel Planner, who works with schools to create and regularly update a School Travel Plan, in partnership with the Transport for London STARS programme. The scheme encourages active travel to school and each year STARS schools replace 13 million miles of car journeys with active travel. The programme provides resources to schools and individuals including home-learning activities for both primary and secondary school aged children.

The additional benefits of active travel, together with details of our initiatives and related projects can be found on our School Travel Planning pages.

School Streets

A School Street is where a road with a school temporarily closes to motorised vehicles to become a pedestrian and cycle only zone during the school’s opening and closing times. Temporarily closing roads to traffic outside schools during busy periods helps reduce congestion and air pollution, and also makes it safer for children to get to and from school. The Council encourages School Streets at schools located in appropriate streets, where pollution is of concern and closure is possible.

We implemented the first trial School Street schemes at the start of June 2020 and there are now 15 in place, as of May 2023. Operation of the schemes is managed by the participating schools, who also encourage active travel (walking, cycling and scooting) to school. After a trial period each scheme is reviewed by us, and if deemed a success, a public consultation is conducted in consideration of making that scheme permanent. Find out more about school streets in the borough, including information about restrictions and enforcement.

We are working with schools across the borough to create more school streets in the next few years. Interested primary schools are invited to email to be considered for further schemes.

Air pollution and idling education 

Children have a raised susceptibility to the effects of air pollution because their lungs are still developing and they have faster breathing rates than adults. It is therefore important that children and their parents/carers understand its health impacts, as well as how to reduce their exposure and contributions to it.

There are many sources of air pollution and traffic is one of the major causes in our borough, so reducing emissions from traffic is one of our key priorities. Engine idling is easily avoided – simply switch off when stationary, especially in places where there are vulnerable people such as children, the elderly and those with health conditions. For more information see our idling web pages.

To help raise awareness of idling and other activities that pollute, we work with primary schools to educate children about air quality. This includes learning about the health impacts of poor air quality and local sources of air pollution through school assemblies and workshops, as well as promoting active travel to and from school.

Additionally, schools can use an online video of the Idling Action London team’s school workshop which was created for Key Stages 2 and 3 students but is suitable for all ages. This introduces air pollution as a public health problem and suggests ways to make the air we breathe cleaner and safer. Watch the video.

You can learn more about engine idling and how we are working to tackle it. This includes idling action events run by the Council with volunteers, which are designed to encourage drivers to turn off their engines to help reduce local air pollution and to pledge to do so in the future.

Air quality monitoring

We have an on-going programme of air quality monitoring in the borough including measurement of the most common pollutants Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Particulate Matter (PM). Our monitoring network has 64 sites across the borough plus two automatic sites and 20 Breathe London sites. Further details and links showing current levels can be found on our air pollution and Air Quality Action Plan web pages.

In January 2022 we began a 3 year programme to monitor worst case scenario 24/7 for a full year outside all state schools within the borough.

A few independent schools are also included. Approximately 25 schools per year will be monitored.

Monitoring commenced at the beginning of January 2022 and will be completed at the end of December 2024. Spot check PM10 and PM2.5 was also carried out – this gives an indication of particle level on the day at that location.

Air quality generally is improving borough wide, including along roads where schools are sited. Monitoring took place outside the school, generally on the pavement near the main school gate or if bordering a busy road on the pavement between the busy road and the school, to represent worse-case scenario.

All schools, including those on busy roads, once bias adjusted for greater accuracy, recorded levels below, or well below, the annual NO2 UK limit value, the level the UK is duty bound to achieve. The annual limit values are 40 ug/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter) for NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) and PM10's (particles of 10 microns and below) and 20ug/m3 for PM2.5's ( particles of 2.5 microns and below).

It is important to note that NO2 drops off quickly with distance from source, which in this borough is largely traffic, so this indicates that both within the school playgrounds and within school buildings at all schools in Richmond borough, levels of air quality are likely to be within UK limit values.

It is useful to understand that children may well be exposed to higher levels on their way to/from school particularly if they travel by car on busy roads. Walking or scootering along backroads, where possible, is a good way to reduce exposure and is highly recommended.

Latest 2021 WHO guidelines were not met anywhere within our borough, including at background sites within Richmond Park. To achieve such levels  - 10ug/m3 for annual NO2, 15ug/m3 for annual PM10 and 5ug/m3 for annual PM2.5 - as recommended by WHO, a big step change in the way we all live our lives, heat/cool our buildings and travel will be required.

View the monitoring results for 2022:

The  results for 2023 and 2024 will follow in due course.

Comprehensive monitoring has been carried out at schools sited on major roads to complement the Mayor of London’s Air Quality audits at East Sheen and St Stephen’s Primary Schools. At each school, this involved monitoring NO2, PM2.5 and PM10 at nine sites located inside and around the school grounds. These two schools were considered by the Mayor to be the most likely to record the highest pollution levels due to their locations close to the South Circular and the A316 respectively. However, only one site within the curtilage of both school grounds recorded levels above the UK/EU limit value of 40ug/m3 for NO2 and this was on the boundary fence near the main entrance, so inaccessible to pupils for most of the day.

Other schools in the borough that have taken part in air quality monitoring are:

  • The Queens C of E Primary School, Kew
  • St Elizabeth’s Catholic Primary School, Richmond
  • St Mary’s and St Peter’s C of E Primary School, Teddington
  • St Osmund’s Catholic Primary School, Barnes
  • Bishop Perrin School, Twickenham (outside only)

All the sites monitored at the above schools measured below or well below 40 ug/m3 for NO2 which is the UK/EU legal limit value that should not be exceeded on grounds of health, which is a positive result.

Any school in the borough interested in monitoring air quality is welcome to get in touch. We can supply three diffusion tubes (to measure NO2) for a month for air quality monitoring science projects. Supporting materials and guidance about how the tubes work and where to site them, can also be given. Interested schools can email the Air Quality Officer at Richmond Council.

Schools in the borough also participate in occasional research and development projects, such as one instigated by the Mayor of London and carried out by Kings College London in 2019, which investigated 250 children’s exposure to air pollution across London. 50 pupils from East Sheen Primary School participated in the project for West London by wearing customised backpack monitors on their journeys to and from school for two weeks. More details about that project can be found on the Mayor of London’s website and in the final project report.

Cleaner Air 4 Schools (CA4S) projects

In 2015/16 LBRuT won funding from the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund to carry out a Cleaner Air 4 Schools project to raise awareness within the school community about air quality. This was organised with 3 other London boroughs and was delivered with help from the London Sustainability Exchange (LSx). The aim was to educate and inform children about the causes and effects of air pollution on health, and involved air quality monitoring with the pupils in and around their schools and along their walking routes to school. This taught them how to reduce the sources of pollution and ways to reduce their own exposure in a fun and informative way. It involved pupils from St Stephens Primary School, Holy Trinity Primary School, Darell Primary School, and Sheen Mount. The final report (pdf, 1.3 MB) provides background information about air pollution, monitoring and mapping, details of the engagement and audit activities, together with audit results and recommendations.

Following the success of this project, we commissioned LSx to help run another CA4S project to complete work with Darell Primary and to include Queen’s C of E School and East Sheen Primary, all bordering on roads with higher levels of air pollution. Read the final report (pdf, 4.3 MB) for this second project.

A further resource for interested school staff is the Mayor of London’s Cleaner Air for Primary Schools Toolkit (pdf, 10.9 MB) which is linked to the National Curriculum and provides a lesson plan and suggestions for citizen science activities.

School air quality assessments

Primary school assessments

To build on the school air quality audit scheme started by the Mayor of London (2017–2020, more details below), we re-commenced the school air quality assessment programme in late 2021 once the easing of COVID restrictions allowed. Primary schools located in areas with higher pollution and/or with older school buildings are currently being prioritised. Any school that wishes to be considered for a school assessment can email the coordinating officer.

The aim of each assessment is to:

  • Identify sources of outdoor air pollution and potential exposure by the primary school children
  • Check emissions from boilers, and heating/cooling systems within the school site
  • Identify and recommend potential measures that could be taken to reduce sources and exposure
  • Increase awareness of air pollution within the school community, including how personal actions can influence emission levels and exposure

An individual assessment report provides bespoke recommendations for reducing emissions and exposure to air pollution around each school.

The recommendations proposed after assessing a school may include:

  • Adding green infrastructure in playgrounds to help reduce and filter vehicle fumes
  • Encouraging students to walk, cycle and scoot to school and to use less polluted routes
  • Ventilation of rooms close to roads is via upper windows and maximised when children are not present and traffic levels are low
  • Ensuring that cleaning is carried out in the evening and ideally uses eco products to reduce the associated pollution and exposure by children
  • Reducing deliveries by amalgamating orders whenever possible
  • Engine-idling action activities to reduce emissions during drop off and collection times

Visit School air quality assessments for more information about: how we run school air quality assessments; key air pollutants and how we monitor them; the UK’s air quality standards; school travel and ways to reduce air quality in and around your school.

In 2017 the Mayor of London launched a school air quality audit programme for 50 primary schools in the worst polluted areas across London. Richmond Council succeeded in getting two schools in LBRuT included - East Sheen and St Stephen’s Primary Schools.

The overall recommendations proposed after auditing the schools included:

  • Moving school entrances and play areas away from busy roads
  • Local road changes including better road layouts 
  • Restricting the most polluting vehicles around schools and pedestrianising areas by school entrances where practical
  • Reducing emissions from boilers, kitchens and other sources
  • Adding green infrastructure along busy roads to help reduce and filter fumes

Each of the 50 audited London schools was awarded Mayoral funding which was match funded by the council. As part of the audit recommendations, green screening was installed at both schools in the borough and an air filtration system (AFS) was loaned to each school for a year. You can read the reports for schools audited by the Mayor of London in our borough which include the recommendations made for East Sheen Primary School and St Stephen’s Primary School

Nursery audits

Following the primary school audits, London’s Mayor extended the project to carry out air quality audits for 20 nurseries in London. These included Windham Nursery in this borough which is close to the A316 road. The Mayor of London’s website gives an overview of this audit programme extension.

The main emphasis behind this second round of audits was to trial 6 different air filtration systems at 6 different nursery schools over a 6 month period to see how they each performed and to what extent they reduced indoor air pollution.

Other recommendations proposed after auditing the nurseries were similar to those for primary schools:

  • A six-month indoor air filtration system (AFS) trial at six nurseries (as advised above)
  • School Streets – closing roads to traffic at nursery drop-off and collection times

The results of the AFS trial showed that the filtration system worked well in reducing fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and to a lesser extent Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) inside the nurseries.

The audit report for Windham Nursery gives details about how the audit was carried out, the results from that process and the recommendations made. Following the audit, it is anticipated that the school’s green screening will be improved and the recommended actions will be investigated as implementation is dependent on funding.

Updated: 19 December 2023

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