How schools can encourage pupils to cycle to school

Childhood obesity is on the rise in the UK with 70% of girls and 55% of boys predicted to be overweight or obese by 2050, according to the walk and cycle charity Sustrans. Despite the average primary school journey only being 1.5 miles, most children travel to school in the car, adding to congestion on the roads, and more importantly, missing out on the opportunity to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine.

Why pupils should cycle to school

Cycling to school has many benefits for children. After a short cycle to school and some fresh air, they arrive at school more alert and energised, ready to start a day of learning. Being able to cycle to school and other places gives children more independence, as they are able to travel further on their own and are able to get to school three times faster than if they were walking. It also challenges pupils to learn to navigate their neighbourhood and develop road safety skills. It may help them forge new friendships and social contacts as they cycle to school together with other pupils. Another important factor is that children who cycle to school help cut down on congestion and air pollution around the school premises.

In 2010, Sustrans surveyed a group of children showing that nearly half of them wanted to cycle to school. A range of school travel surveys have confirmed this number. Despite this and the multitude of benefits associated with cycling, only 4% of pupils travel to school by bike. This compares to half of children in the Netherlands who cycle to school.

Encouraging pupils to travel to school by bike

Whilst the decision whether to allow their children to cycle to school ultimately lies with the parents or guardians, schools can take a number of actions to encourage their pupils to ride their bikes to school and to ensure cycling safety:

  • Have a cycle policy which encourages cycling to school

Provide clear guidance to staff, pupils and parents outlining the school’s policy toward cycling. Provide reasons for why your school encourages cycling to school, your expectations of the pupil who uses their bike to get to school, your contribution to providing a bike-friendly environment for those keen to cycle to school and the role of the parent.

Guidance for the pupils can include recommendations on wearing cycle safety gear such as a cycle helmet and high-visibility clothing, following the Highway Code on the way to school and back home and rules for dismounting once children have entered school premises and bike storage.

The school can provide an overview of how the safe use of bikes is encouraged for travelling to school which can include providing cycle training and bike shelters as well as rewarding pupils who cycle to school.

The cycle policy can also cover recommendations for younger pupils to be accompanied by their parents.

  •  Offer safe cycle training through Bikeability

Bikeability is a government backed cycle training programme which aims to teach children safe cycling in three levels of progressive training. The training ranges from basic balance and control to cycling independently on busy roads.

If your school doesn’t already offer a Bikeability training programme for pupils, you can get in touch with your council to find out whether they support the training scheme. Otherwise, there are also private providers if your local authority does not provide Bikeability. For England and Wales, you can find out more on the Bikeability website. For Scotland, learn more by visiting the Bikeability Scotland website.

  •  Plan bike trains for pupils keen to cycle to school

Similarly to a walking bus, a bike train offers a group of cyclists to travel to school together, whilst being under parental supervision. Walking school buses are already a popular method for organising a group of pupils to walk to school together with adults supervising the group and ensuring everyone gets to school and back home safely. The group stops at agreed meeting points, picking up children along the way. A bike train is very similar, with children cycling instead of walking and adults supervising the group on bikes at the front and back of the group.

  •  Participate in The Big Pedal

The Big Pedal is a cycling and scooting challenge for all schools in the UK. It takes place over two weeks in the spring and on each day, schools compete with each other to have the greatest number of pupils, parents and staff cycling or scootering to school. The results get logged online and a daily score marks the progress of each participating school. The goal is to encourage healthier travel habits in pupils, staff and parents whilst the competitive element makes The Big Pedal a fun event to participate in. Nearly 1,700 schools participated in The Big Pedal in 2017. The next event takes place between 23 April and 4 May 2018. Learn more on the official The Big Pedal website.

  •  Provide secure bike storage options

As a school, you can encourage pupils to cycle to school by providing enough secure bike storage for pupils to leave their bikes on school premises during the day. Bike storage options can fit many requirements with regards to available space and budget. Basic bike stands and racks provide a place for pupils to securely store their bikes when arriving at school. This can encourage them and their parents to think of cycling as an alternative for getting to school, as they know their bike is safe at school. It also helps keep school grounds organised by having designated cycle parking areas. Bike shelters are another option if secure cycle storage, also providing protection from the elements. Bike compounds provide even more security, with a gate that can be padlocked to prevent unauthorised access to the bikes.

  • Provide lockers or cloakrooms for children to keep helmet and other biking equipment

In order to keep classrooms tidy, schools should provide lockers or cloakrooms for children to store their cycle helmets and other bike gear including high visibility vests. Small and lower height lockers are ideal for primary schools to keep lockers accessible to pupils.

By providing guidance, encouragement and the right infrastructure, schools can positively affect how children travel to school, leading to more active, healthier and more alert pupils and a reduction in traffic and pollution around the school gates.

Viviane Carter is Digital Marketing Executive at CSI Products, provider of workplace products including a wide range of classroom and facility equipment such as bike shelters and school lockers.

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