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Travel to school in Chorlton: Change starts at the school gates

Travel to school in Chorlton: Change starts at the school gates 

Here we reflect on the work we did with parents, pupils, children and teachers during the Our Streets Chorlton project.


You can read the full School Streets Project Report here or at the bottom of the blog and download the PDF which includes: 

  • How we set out the school streets project
  • The project highlights, outcomes and community reactions
  • Barlow Hall Primary School Case study 
  • Secondary Schools case studies
  • Our impact and legacy

The Our Streets Chorlton team worked with 10 schools across the area to explore what it would take for children to walk, cycle, scoot and play more freely outside of their school gates without the usual risk of traffic. We aimed to help children and parents understand the benefits of walking and cycling to school, in turn reducing the number of journeys made to school by car.

We wanted to start conversations and create relationships between the schools to initiate long-term action, showing local stakeholders including council representatives what’s possible as a collective, and create excitement about seeing change in action.

We supported a school champions network of parents and teachers to work together on the topic.

The impact – summary 

We worked intensively at Barlow Hall Primary School to explore the issue of travel to school with the school and local community.

We carried out a number of activities including: 

  • travel to school surveys
  • walk to school week
  • two-day school street trial and related traffic counts
  • air pollution monitoring 
  • design workshops for pupils 

This work showed clearly that:

  • Children want change
  • Parents & teachers want change
  • The most common worry about children walking to school without an adult was the amount and speed of cars on the road, and parking on pavements.
  • School streets work to increase walking, cycling (up 70% in our trial) and reduce driving (down 20% in our trial)

What did you do?

Over two days in June 2021, we worked together to close Darley Avenue to traffic for a short section outside of the school during pick up and drop off. No cars or vans could pass through the closed zone between 8.30 and 9.15 in the morning, and 2.30 and 4 in the afternoon. 

Some vehicles were allowed through, for deliveries, and so that people could drive to and from their houses if they lived in the closed zone. Stewards guided them through at walking pace, and also led the local bus through.

Our data champions carried out monitoring, which showed there was a 70% increase in people cycling and a significant decrease in driving.

Our air quality monitoring also showed that while air quality was generally good, pollution spiked during the school run due to idling engines.

In the design workshops run by Sustrans, pupils drew out their ideas which included bike parking, space to play outside and parking-free zones. And the vast majority of pupils taking part in our workshop said they’d like to see the street closed permanently at pick up and drop off (22 out of 25 in year 5). 

We worked up their ideas into a design (add image) which we hope will be adopted in the future.

The Barlow Hall trial was part of a wider school street week which we supported in Chorlton in June 2021, with other schools also running their own closures to encourage walking and cycling.

What did parents say?

Our survey of parents at Barlow Hall showed that a majority of parents walked to school, in keeping with Manchester averages, but a minority (25%) drove their kids by car or van.

Although those driving were a relatively small amount and in the minority, it was enough to cause problems for the majority to the extent some were fearful for their kids safety.

“There are so many cars parked, there is a real possibility for people coming out of the gate to have a crash because they cannot see incoming traffic.”

“I’ve got to walk round on the road due to all the cars…its a big worry for my child’s safety.” 

“I’ve been asked to move (whilst standing on the pavement) so a parent can park there!”

Even those parents driving weren’t generally happy with the situation with many calling the journey stressful or the worst part of the day – while those who walked scooted skated or cycled – rated the journey highly. 

How did the community react?

Teachers at Barlow Hall Primary School were resoundingly positive of the opportunity for the school to host such a trial. It provided the faculty with an understanding of what is possible, with the hope of exploring the potential of school streets in the future.

Parents and teachers at Brookburn and Oswald Road also came together to enable school streets at their school – working together via our champions network. Many commented on the fact the school street created a safer but also more sociable end to the school day.

Children were overwhelmingly positive about the opportunity to play outside of their schools. Oswald Road Primary School’s school street in June saw kids playing for lengths of time after the school day had come to an end.

Local residents were also supportive – citing pavement parking and associated bottlenecks caused by the school run as a blight on their local street.

What next?

There is a strong collective desire to see out the ambition of creating permanent school streets across Chorlton, particularly at certain primary schools where road layouts make it more possible. 

During the Our Streets project, Brookburn School was selected for a six-month trial and the local champions and supporters are working together to make this a success. 

However the trial highlights the limitations of the current policy within Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester Combined Authority/Transport for Greater Manchester – in that there is no support for implementation or enforcement of the trial (beyond the initial legal traffic order required to make it possible) – and it will rely on volunteer parents standing in the street to marshall traffic.

This approach is hugely off-putting as it requires significant voluntary commitment – and more importantly excludes any school without a very engaged set of parents with free time on their hands. It is simply not a viable approach to the long-term behaviour change that is so needed and wanted here.

So there is a need for greater support from MCC in the form of 

  • Adoption of clear ambitions and targets for changing travel to school 
  • Adoption of permanent school streets as a goal within that 
  • Bids for funding to deliver the required infrastructure and supporting resources
  • Greater emphasis on supporting measures such as bike storage 

There is a need for greater support at a GMCA/TfGM level

  • Adopting changing travel to school behaviours as a key goal within the region’s transport strategy & related funding
  • Creating best practice guidelines
  • Ring-fencing funding and encouraging boroughs to bid for funds

Claire Stocks, from Our Streets partner Walk Ride GM said:

“When you talk to primary age children, the case for change is so startling. Most would love to walk or cycle to school and yet these rates are flat or in decline – less than 1% of under 10s cycle to school in Manchester largely because it’s too dangerous – yet the vast majority live a mile or closer.

“We have a pollution crisis, a climate crisis, a cost of living crisis – and children who are in general far less active than is healthy – it all adds up to a no-brainer that changing patterns of travel to school should be top priority for our leaders.

“We urge Manchester City Council’s cabinet to address this oversight – in the Year of the Child. And for GM’s new Active Travel Commissioner Sarah Storey – also a mother of two young children – to make this her top priority when she starts in May. 

“In Denmark – travel to school is top of the pile for transport funding and we don’t understand why that’s not the case here.

“Cities like Birmingham are ramping up school streets by using funding raised through their clean air zone and workplace parking levy – so lack of funding/ resources is no excuse.”


Click here for our full

School Streets Project Report.