Children teach drivers that Oxford air needs their care

Published: Thursday, 20th June 2019

Children from Windmill Primary School in Headington will be campaigning for drivers to cut their engines as part of national Clean Air Day today (Thursday 20 June).

Pupils will be walking the city centre with banners, handing out leaflets and stickers to drivers to encourage less polluting behaviour by cutting engine idling.

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 youngsters are also learning more about air pollution 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.

Councillor Tom Hayes said “In recent weeks, Oxford has seen its own school children go on strike to demand national action on climate change. Our Council has supported schoolchildren campaigning to put a more thorough teaching of climate change on the national curriculum. And we’re proud to be working again with the next generation of activists on the issues affecting their future and their health. Together we’re calling on drivers to cut their engines at the school gates to cut air pollution. I hope more drivers will listen and cut their engines at the gates or even ditch the car for the school run. Leaving the car behind and walking or cycling with the kids to school can make the real difference that we all need to see.”

Head teacher Lynne Knapp said " I think it is essential that we are educating children about the impact of air pollution on our environment as part of our work on climate change. Firstly there is the immediate impact on children's health which we need to raise awareness of, as this cannot be ignored.  Secondly we need to educate our children, who will be the future adults of the world,  about climate change so that they can be proactive in reversing the damage  that we have done to our planet through our current lifestyles. These issues aren't going to go away without us all making some significant changes to our lifestyles and our children can be leaders of this."

Fiona Tavner, Coordinator at Oxford Friends of the Earth, said: "Poor air quality continues to mean poor health and even early deaths for people in Oxford and towns across the county. We need action now to cut pollution and cutting unnecessary car journeys is a first step. It is good to see schools and communities working on this."

In 2016 a report found that outdoor air pollution causes about 40,000 deaths in the UK each year. Air pollution has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes linked to dementia. Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution.

New data from the Oxford City Council’s 72 air pollution monitoring locations has shown that levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) fell by an average of 0.23% between 2017 and 2018 –a starkly slower rate in comparison to the 22.7% decrease between 2016 and 2017.  It is thought that another steep decline in air pollution may not occur without a further upgrade in the city’s vehicles to cleaner technology. However, future data will be needed to understand whether the plateauing is a trend.