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This week, 250 children at five London primary schools have carried backpacks that monitor air quality for a university-led study tracking pollution levels on their daily journeys.

The initiative is the latest stage of the Breathe London project, which London Mayor Sadiq Khan‘s office described as “the most comprehensive city-wide network of air quality monitors of its kind in the world”.

A 2017 study by consultancy Aether for the Greater London Authority, using 2013 data, found that a quarter of all schools across London were exposed to air pollution levels that exceeded European Union limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

In Greenwich, southeast London, Haimo Primary School – which is participating in the Breathe London scheme – incorporates education about the environment into its curriculum, head teacher Kate Barnes told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Our children are on the playground at lunchtime, running around, breathing in this air – and it’s not okay,” she said.

“We have to do something about it, and we have to change mindsets of the parents and carers.”

After two years of petitioning, last autumn the school council was able to implement a “school street”, meaning the road is closed at the beginning and end of the day, Barnes said.

That has led to a significant drop in parents driving their children to school, and rising use of clean air-friendly modes of transport like walking and scooting, she added.

Combined with a focus on the world’s sustainable development goals in class, Haimo pupils are learning about the effects of climate change – and what they can do to combat it, Barnes said.

“They want to help other schools – not just locally, not just nationally, but globally,” she said. “They’re the future leaders. If they are growing up knowing that this is a problem, they’re going to do something about it.” Read more

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