School’s Out: Seasonal Variation in the Movement Patterns of School Children

School children are core groups in the transmission of many common infectious diseases, and are likely to play a key role in the spatial dispersal of disease across multiple scales. However, there is currently little detailed information about the spatial movements of this epidemiologically important age group. To address this knowledge gap, we collaborated with eight secondary schools to conduct a survey of movement patterns of school pupils in primary and secondary schools in the United Kingdom. We found evidence of a significant change in behaviour between term time and holidays, with term time weekdays characterised by predominately local movements, and holidays seeing much broader variation in travel patterns. Studies that use mathematical models to examine epidemic transmission and control often use adult commuting data as a proxy for population movements. We show that while these data share some features with the movement patterns reported by school children, there are some crucial differences between the movements of children and adult commuters during both term-time and holidays.