Since 2004 the School Travel Health Check (STHC) service provided by Knowledge Mappers Ltd has established itself as the benchmark for a true, evidence-based approach to delivering on-the-ground change to more sustainable and active travel to school for local authorities. By undertaking spatial analysis of school location, pupil-level school census and usual mode of travel data, and delivering the results via a bespoke, web mapping-enabled, interactive, online data portal, accessible to all, we achieve modal shift at the school level and enable strategic working at local authority and national level.
Justification Of The Spatial Analysis Approach
We are very pleased to announce that for the 8th year in a row, Dorset County Council has commissioned the STHC analysis service, and the graph above from the Dorset STHC Data Portal (specifically here, in the “Pupil Proximity To School Analysis” section) shows why. It quantifies the year-on-year reduction in the number and proportion of Dorset pupils that live within a reasonable walking distance of their school travelling by car – some 1500 less pupils (31.5% decrease) last school year compared to 2007-08, the first year the STHC was undertaken for Dorset. Obviously without the spatial analysis process that is at the heart of the STHC, it would not be possible at all to show, let alone quantify, such a reduction.
Quantifiable Return On Investment
If you consider that a 2010 report by the Department for Health placed a rate of return figure (ie. savings in future spending) of £600 on each car trip that converted to walking or cycling (ref “Promoting Active Travel to School: Progress and Potential 2010” – available from the downloads section on main STHC website), this represents a spectacular saving for the Dorset Public Health Authority!
Proximity & Pupil Choice (aka “Doorstep Leakage”) Analysis
As ever though we are not resting on our laurels. Building on the standard STHC analysis and working in conjunction with Dorset County Council, the University of the West of England Social Marketing Unit and Andrew Combes and Associates, we have developed the Dorset ‘Child Miles Doorstep Leakages’ project, which is delivered as the “Proximity & Pupil Choice Analysis” module on the STHC Data portal. This analysis module quantifies the proximity of schools to pupils, pupils to schools, and schools to each other. From this are derived pupil choice by distance ranking, “doorstep leakage” of pupils to schools that are not the nearest one (& the extra “child miles” this involves) and the numerical and geodemographic impact on roles if all pupils attended their nearest school. Furthermore though lack of pupil usual mode of travel data may make the results less rich, it does not prevent the analysis from being undertaken.
Environmental, Community & Financial Impact
An immediate application of this analysis is in quantifying and visualising the “leakage” of potential pupils away from a schools own doorstep – “in this schools walk threshold, X number of pupils are travelling Y number of miles to various other schools, which is Z “child miles” more than if they walked to this school on their own doorstep”. Looking beyond the more easily quantifiable environmental impact of the “additional child miles”, there are consequences for the local community and the school. Most parents want to have the choice of a good school locally, but why are some (many?) choosing to go elsewhere? Are they “repelled” by the local school or “attracted” to schools further away (despite the extra hassle involved in getting there)? If the former, are their concerns justified, or mis-perception based only on local gossip? With each child “bum-on-the-seat” representing annual block grant funding from the DfE of between £4000 and 8000 (with extra for pupils from deprived areas), the financial consequences of pupil “doorstep leakage” are very real for schools.
Business-critical intelligence information for school management teams
Whilst our analysis can’t change local perceptions, it provides school management teams, and those centrally supporting the management teams, with business-critical intelligence information to quantify and visualise the issue, and start asking some fundamental questions:-
- Are we really “losing” that many pupils compared to other schools?
- Which school are most of them going to?
- Is there an obvious reason for this? What have they got that we haven’t?”
- Are there social marketing approaches that could be applied to help improve the situation with the local community?
- Hang on here, doesn’t it cut both ways? Are we actually “gaining” more pupils from elsewhere than we are “losing” from our doorstep?
None of these questions can be answered without detailed spatial analysis of pupil-level data at a whole authority level – an approach that has been pioneered by Knowledge Mappers through the School Travel Health Check for the last 10 years.
Although the DfE decision to unilaterally stop collecting pupil mode of travel data on a national basis through school census has had serious ramifications for all those interested in achieving more sustainable and active pupil travel to school, the work of the STHC in Dorset shows that it is still possible to effect real and lasting change at a local level.