During these five months at LSx, the main project I have been working on is “Cleaner Air for Schools” (CA4S). This monthly report will introduce the CA4S project, explain my tasks and demonstrate findings from the surveys and the activities.
1. Introduction of CA4S
Air pollution is a serious problem in London. To tackle air quality, the London Mayor awarded funds to Transport for London(TfL) and the London Sustainability Exchange (LSx) to launch the Cleaner Air 4 Schools project. The project started in September 2011 and will finish in the end of April 2012. Three primary schools nearEdgware Road andMarylebone Road, two ofLondon’s top air pollution areas, have been selected to take part in this pilot project.
Through citizen science activities and peer to peer social marketing strategies, the project aims to:
- Increased awareness of air pollution issues amongst parents, teachers, pupils and school governors.
- Improve their confidence, skills and understanding of the importance of air quality, the main causes of pollution and actions to improve air quality.
- Empower them to change their behaviour – such as idling outside school gates – and to encourage others to do the same.
- With this pilot project and other experiences in air quality, LSx will create an Air Quality ‘Toolkit’ with the Greater London Authority which will be used in other primary schools inLondon
According to the timeline, the implementation includes:
- 2011 November – Identify the project leader of each school and confirm the champion team members including 2-3teachers, 1 school governor, 2-4pupils and 2-3 parents. All air quality champions from three schools attend the training workshop.
- 2011 December to 2012 early January – Schools carry out three baseline surveys: travel mode hands-up, idling survey, parent travel questionnaire.
- 2012 early January to February – Schools practice citizen science activities to monitor air quality and social marketing activities to raise awareness. In the end of February, conduct follow-up surveys.
- 2012 late February to early March – LSx collects and analyses survey/ activity result, organises focus group discussion to seek feedback.
- 2012 mid March to April – LSx presents the findings to schools, evaluates the project, writes project report and finalises the toolkit.
Project team members
At LSx, the core members of this project include a delivery programme director, a project manager, a project coordinator and a project assistant (me). We four have bi-weekly meetings and extra discussions before important evens.
The delivery programme director supervises the project, provides guidance and helps the project manager with decision-making. She also seeks potential funds and partners to continue other air quality projects. The manager oversees the project, deals with TfL, manages the budget and arranges team meetings.
The coordinator and I work together closely coordinating schools and preparing various training/ survey/ activity materials. We contact school project frequently, organise schools visits and events. Meanwhile, several LSx interns support us with research, graphic design, training materials and activity delivery.
2. My tasks in CA4S
The contracting with TfL and the initial engagement with schools have been done in September and October 2011, before I came to LSx. Since I joined this project in early November 2011, I have involved in various parts of the project and it almost occupied 80% of my work time at LSx. My tasks include:
- Research: air quality facts, air quality monitoring technology, citizen science, air quality related policies and case studies
- Develop training/ learning materials: air quality and air pollution info sheets, instructions and presentation slides of citizen science and other activities, such as ghost wipes, diffusion tubes, lichen observation, peppered moth theory.
- Prepare and deliver activities such as training day, lichen observation, focus group discussions, and presentations of findings.
- Coordinate with partner organizations including schools, labs, product providers… a lot of communication through phone calls and emails. Visit schools to collect survey/activity results and delivery materials.
- Analyse survey and activity results: recording the data from schools and labs, interpreting and mapping the findings.
- Represent LSx to participate in relevant events and workshops: such as Citizen Cyberscience Summit, London Sustainable School Forum.
3. Findings of surveys and activities
As a part of project evaluation, ideally the three surveys should be carried out twice -in the beginning and in the end of the project – to evaluate people’s awareness and behaviour change. However, due to the shortage of time and the difficulties to have parents filled out the questionnaires, the schools only completed these surveys once.
- Travel mode hands-up survey
The schools are familiar with this survey as TfL have collect data. The population of pupils in these primary schools is around 200-450. And the total respondents we collected were 750. More than 75% of the pupils and staff go to school sustainable travel including walk, cycle, scooter, bus and train. Around 15-25% pupils go to school by car. Among all respondents from three schools, currently only 4 people cycle to school. However, more around 30%-40% of the respondents said they would prefer cycle to school.
- Idling survey
Idling means a driver leaves the engine running and the vehicle parked or stopped in the traffic. Idling creates a lot of emissions which make air polluted. “No idling” is an important topic in TfL’s air quality campaign. Kids observed and counted cars outside their schools. For one school of the three, idling seems not a big issue, only 3% of the cars were idling. In contrast, the other two schools respectively found 54% and 73% of the cars were idling and the facts shocked the teachers and pupils.
- Travel questionnaires
These pupils have different cultural, ethnic and language background. For many/ most of their parents, English is not their first language. Therefore some of them have difficulties to understand the two- page questionnaires and unable or reluctant to answer the questions. One school has a high return rate of 30%, and another two schools return 10% of the questionnaires. The result from 130 questionnaires shows that 40% of the parents do not know the issue air quality inLondonand 60% of them worry about the air pollution would affect children’s health.
3.2 Citizen Science
Due to the lack of time and individual situations in each school, not all of the three schools have completed all activities on time.
- Diffusion tubes
Diffusion tubes are used to measure levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air. Pupils placed tubes outdoors in 12 different sites around the school and collected after two weeks.
Results: NO2 levels around the schools are 45-80 ug/m3 (Micrograms per Cubic Meter of Air), which is higher than the levels experts recommend – 40 ug/m3. The data show that the air quality in the main roads is much worse than small lanes.
- Ghost wipes
Ghost wipes are used to test heavy metals in air-borne particulate matter. Pupils wiped 15 different surfaces around the school to test for heavy metal deposits.
Result: The lab tested three metals on the wipes: cadmium, lead and zinc. Only zinc was found but the amount is very small and it would not affect people’s health.
- Lichen observation
Lichens on trees show the quality of the air around them. Pupils identified different types of lichens in to learn about air quality near our school.
Result: Pupils loved this activity as they could get out of school and walked around parks and streets. It is hard to quantify the result but they identified more nitrogen-loving lichens than nitrogen-sensitive lichens, showing that the air nearby was fairly poor.
3.3 Social-marketing/ Art activities
- Badge competition
Pupils were asked to design a badge that showed their understanding of air quality. Two winning design from each schools were made into a badge for the Air Quality Champion team and as prizes for pupils who successfully carry out actions that improve air quality.
- Moth pledge
The population of white peppered moth and black moth changed as a result of air pollution. Pupils, staff and families make a moth pledge describing an action they will carry out to reduce air pollution. Each time they complete a pledge action, they put a white dot on the black moth to turn it white again.
3.4 Feedback from participants
In general, participants showed their enthusiasm and positive feedbacks in the project. Teachers and pupils said they have learned, gained confidence and really enjoyed these activities. Some teachers would develop their ideas and activities of air quality after the pilot project finishes. Some teachers confessed that this project was very time-consuming and sometimes they did have enough support from the other teachers. They suggested that these activities should be integrated into their school curriculum in order to reduce extra work and to have more pupils and teachers involved. During the past four months, schools promoted the project and try to engage pupils and parents through school newsletter, parents’ evenings and school assemblies. However, all schools felt it was difficult to engage parents to participate as there were so many things around the school and people may not prioritise the air quality issues.
Despite many unexpected problems we encountered, for me this was an interesting project and I learned from diverse tasks in different phases. In the beginning I was overwhelmed by the tasks and did not know how to organise them. After a lot of research, meetings and activities, gradually I became more familiar about air quality issues and be more confident to deal with my jobs and even became the “citizen science expert” in our team. I gained the knowledge of air pollution and air monitoring, improved my skills of communicate with school teachers and other partners. During the process, I have also observed how a project is planned, implemented, monitored and evaluated, and compare my experiences inUKandTaiwan. After the project is completed, I will share more about these observations and learning in the monthly reports.
 Compared to other long-term big projects with huge budget in LSx, CA4S is relatively a small short-term project.
 InTaiwan, the primary schools in big cities usually have more than one thousand pupils and the campus contains several buildings and sport fields. When I first visited these primary schools inLondon, I was really surprised by how “small” they are – both the population of the pupils and the space of the schools.
 Transport for London encourages drivers switch off the engine if they are stopped for more than one minute. More information about the “No-idling” campaign: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/projectsandschemes/19853.aspx and “idling and health” http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/22090.aspx