Pupils in Reading take part in special research to learn about pollution levels at school

ITV Meridian's Juliette Fletcher reports.

Four schools from Reading have joined together with researchers from the town's university to monitor air quality in the area.

It follows a Government report  in 2021 which revealed that over three million children in the UK are exposed to harmful levels of pollution - with those in the south being particularly at risk.

The report states that children are particularly exposed while they are travelling to school and in the school playground.

Geoffrey Field Junior School in Whitley, is one of those taking part in the project. We spoke to Zoe Churcher, whose daughter Molly Bourne carried an air quality monitor on her backpack as she walked to school.

Zoe explained how the results were displayed on her phone and showed where pollution levels were at their highest.

Zoe said:

"The monitor is connected to an app on my phone so we can see in live time the levels of pollution where we are walking and it shows on a map.

"There's a very clear guide - green is a low level of pollution and red is a high level of a pollution. We can see on our road as we left home it was green, and as soon as we came to the main road it turned orange, and then all the way down the main road to the school it was orange and by the time we got here it was high. 

"It was a really clear representation for us of how the congestion and the traffic in the mornings affects the level of air pollution we are breathing in."

The school has also had a solar-powered monitor installed on the gate where pollution from standing traffic is often high. 

Teacher Kim Schwarz said they are hoping they will be able to use the results to raise awareness among pupils and parents.

"The school's eco-committee  which I lead, we are hoping to raise awareness across the school, encourage active travel which we have done before - we have had a couple of walk-to-school challenges which we have run successfully.

"Also raising awareness with parents, encouraging them to swap their cars for walking boots or scooters or bikes, and incorporating the results and what we find in our day-to-day teaching, ensuring the children can see the ramifications of pollution."

Researchers from Reading University are hoping their project will expand. They've received a grant of £5,000 over two years from the Community Fund - a joint initiative between the John Sykes Foundation and the University of Reading.

Other schools involved in the project include: Alfred Sutton Primary School, Hemdean House School in Caversham and Oxford Road Community School, located near one of the most congested roads in Reading.

Pollution can cause health problems

Poor air quality can cause severe health problems including asthma, slower development of lung function, wheezing and coughing, but also mental health issues and childhood obesity.

The project is being led by Dr Hong Yang from the Department of Geography and Environmental Science and senior technician Marta O'Brien from Technical Services.

Dr Yang said: "It is important to get students involved in the process, because it is their lives that are being impacted. By doing it this way, we are not only educating children and their families, but we are also ensuring our data accurately reflects the journeys students take and the exposure risks they experience.

"The support from the Community Fund enabled us to buy industry-standard air quality sensors. It has been a crucial part of ensuring that children are involved in the scientific process and has helped us to expand our research."

Air quality monitors will also be installed inside school buildings to determine how much of the pollution surrounding the schools is also present inside the classrooms.

It's hoped this research will help children play and learn in cleaner, safer spaces.