Guide offers schools practical ways to protect pupils from air pollution

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

Schools are being offered research-based advice to help protect their pupils from the effectives of air pollution.

Academics from the University of Surrey’s Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE) have published guidance on tangible measures that can be taken to improve the air children breathe in and around schools.

Air pollution is becoming an increasingly high-profile issue for schools after an investigation by Greenpeace and the Guardian in 2017 revealed that 2,091 schools, nurseries, further education centres and after-school clubs are situated within 150 metres of a road with illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution from diesel traffic. The problem is particularly acute in London and other big cities.

Furthermore, research commissioned by environment and road safety charity the FIA Foundation found that air pollution is more likely to affect disadvantaged children as they are more likely to be walking to school.

Experts from GCARE warn that children who are exposed to air pollution are more likely to suffer from short and long-term health conditions including bronchitis, asthma, and stunted lung development. They say that air pollution has also been linked with poor concentration and related learning and behavioural issues.

The new 24-page guide – entitled Mitigating Exposure to Traffic Pollution in and around Schools – offers 20 recommendations for government, schools and communities to improve the quality of air for children. Measures for schools include:

  • Restricting the number of windows and doors open in classes that face drop-off/pick up zones.
  • Planting green barriers – such as hedges – to minimise daily exposure to harmful particles.
  • Rescheduling outdoor classes to the afternoon.
  • Encouraging parents to change their commuting habits, including via carpool clubs.
  • Pollution education, including Co2 monitors in classrooms.

The advice in the guide is based on a range of research, including a recent study looking at a primary school initiative to influence parents’ commuting habits (Kumar et al, 2020).

Co-author of that study and director of GCARE, Professor Prashant Kumar, said: “Nothing is more important than the health and wellbeing of our children and my experience tells me that there are some real health risks, caused by air pollution, in and around many of the schools in our country.

“In our new guidance booklet, we set out to give schools, parents and local communities actionable advice which we believe will make a significant, positive impact on the quality of the air that our children breathe on school days.”

  • GCARE: Mitigating Exposure to Traffic Pollution in and around Schools, June 2020: (for a hard copy or further details, email
  • Kumar et al: A primary school driven initiative to influence commuting style for dropping-off and picking-up of pupils, Science of The Total Environment (727), July 2020:


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