COP28, The Knowledge

Are teacher commutes getting any greener?

Teacher commutes are decarbonising very slowly but there are signs that efforts are building up a head of steam

Teacher commutes are decarbonising very slowly but there are signs that efforts are building up a head of steam

18 Dec 2023, 5:00

There is perhaps no teacher commute more unique than a Teacher Tapp respondent who told us about taking a light aircraft to island hop to their school.

But even among more usual commuters teachers are relatively unique. This is mainly thanks to schools’ less traditional locations, often outside of town and city centres and not always in the ideal spot for good public transport links.

Furthermore, teachers are often laden with books and resources which make hauling over long distances on a bike or bus difficult. As a result, many teachers use the car; a Teacher Tapp survey back in 2021 revealed that 83 per cent of teachers commute this way.

Of course, lots of things have changed since 2021. An ever-increasing focus on environmental concerns, the scaling-up of flexible work and a supposed ‘AI revolution’, to name just a few. Any number of these may drastically alter teachers’ transport preferences. So, what’s changed in two years? To find out, Teacher Tapp polled over 10,000 teachers on their daily commute to see the differences between 2021 and 2023.

One of the least surprising findings is that the distances teachers are travelling have remained largely unchanged in two years. However, the time taken by a teacher to get to school has increased. Back in 2021, many workers were still opting for home-working over office-based work, but a gradual return to the office for many workers since then means more congestion on the roads. As a result, many teachers say their commutes are taking longer. They have increased by an average of a minute each way, and while that doesn’t seem much, it quickly adds up. Over the course of a year, that’s an extra six and a half hours in the car – neither working nor enjoying quality time.

The cost of commuting has risen as well. Rising fuel prices alongside more expensive public transport have caused teachers to be paying on average £20 more per month on travel costs than in 2021. In effect, teachers are £240 a year worse off before even leaving the house.

It’s a uniquely difficult set of behaviours to shift

However, the additional commuting time and expense don’t appear to have dented car usage among teachers, further highlighting how unfeasible other modes of transport really are for this group of professionals. In 2023, 84 per cent of teachers say they commute to work by car – 1 per cent more than in 2021 (from a larger sample).

Meanwhile, the proportion using an electric alternative has increased from 5 percent two years ago to 8 per cent today. This change reflects wider societal change, but it is helped no end by the increase in schools providing green car schemes (up from 1 to 3 per cent) and electric changing points on site (doubled to 6 per cent).

Other incentives that schools offer include cycle-to-work schemes, which continue to prove the most popular travel initiative offered by schools. Thirty per cent of schools offer a way to buy a bike cheaply, but the percentage that do so has remained unchanged for the past two years, further highlighting that cycling is unsuitable for many.

In fact, teachers who cycle make up just 3 per cent of commutes, unchanged since 2021. Many more prefer to walk. Furthermore, we know public transport isn’t suitable for the masses. Even in London, just 18 per cent take the train or tube each day. This results in little incentive for schools to offer season ticket loans for public transport, which only 7 per cent of London schools (and practically no others) do.

Looking back two years, it would be easy to focus on the fact that little has changed – but it’s a uniquely difficult set of behaviours to shift given the physical realities of the profession. In that context, it’s perhaps best to focus on where change is happening.

The increase in the adoption of electric vehicles and schools’ provision of the infrastructure for that is particularly encouraging in that regard. Another doubling over the next two years would start to look like a trend. And of course, the more who make the transition, the easier it will be for others to follow.

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One comment

  1. Stephen Axcell

    The transition to electric vehicles could be a whole lot faster if the DfE would remove the effective prohibition on salary sacrifice schemes from the STPCD. I have raised this a number of times with as many people as I can so I can only conclude that the DfE do not want schemes to be in place on a large scale.