A campaign is in full swing to try and tackle pollution and poor air quality outside schools in Reading.

The campaign involves giving children, parents and teachers monitoring equipment to help them  identify toxic air pollution and choose safer routes to school.

The equipment has been given out by the University of Reading, which is conducting research into air quality around schools to build a toolkit to help schools devise ways of tackling pollution and improve the health of pupils, staff and parents.

It is being undertaken as air pollution can lead to severe health problems including asthma, reduced lung development, wheezing and coughing,  mental health issues and childhood obesity.

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The research is being led by Dr Hong Yang, from the university’s department of geography and environmental science, and Marta O’Brien from its technical services department.

Dr Yang said: “The school gates are one of the worst affected areas.

“The combination of rush hour congestion, proximity to roads and little space to move around makes for a very high level of pollution.

“By better monitoring the pollution there throughout the day, and particularly at busy times, we can help schools to introduce processes which will decrease exposure or potentially even improve air quality in those specific areas.

“One area we are particularly interested in is ‘stop idling’ policies.

“These are very popular in schools across the UK, but we want to know if they are working well enough and if they would have an impact on schools in Reading.”

The research is being conducted in partnership with several schools, including:

  • Alfred Sutton Primary School, Wokingham Road, East Reading
  • Hemdean House School, Hemdean Road, Caversham
  • Geoffrey Field Junior School, Exbourne Road, Whitley
  • Oxford Road Community School, Oxford Road

The project also involves tracking pollution levels inside as well, which involves installing monitoring equipment in school buildings.

Mrs O’Brien said: “We suspect that the pollution levels outside these schools are high. We anticipate that there is likely some protection being inside, but we want to know how much. Our children sit in classrooms all day long, for most of their young lives – we also need to know what the air quality is like inside the schools.

“We became particularly interested in this during the COVID-19 pandemic, because many places were keeping their windows and doors open to increase ventilation, while others took the approach of increasing air ventilation systems. Both approaches have helped stop the spread of COVID-19 particles, but they may have had an unintended impact on air pollution in schools. We want to monitor that over an extended period.”

The monitoring equipment has been acquired thanks to £5000 of community funding from the university and the John Sykes Foundation.

Information about the university’s project can be found here.

Last month, Reading Borough Council made three ‘school streets’ permanent.

READ MORE: Reading school street temporary closures made permanent

School streets involve the temporary closure of roads during morning drop off and afternoon pick up to encourage walking to school and improve air quality.

The council has previously taken part in the ‘No Idling’ campaign, which urges drivers to switch off their engines while stationary, reducing the amount of pollution which comes from their vehicles.