Cycling to school is one of those rare activities that ‘ticks all the boxes’ i.e. it is beneficial in practically every single way.
The health benefits of cycling to school, for example, are indisputable. Research carried out by YouGov for Cycling England found that children who are ferried to school by car spend an average of two hours and 35 minutes per week in their vehicle (which is equivalent to 8% of school time). This figure is more than the 5% of the school time which is devoted to doing physical education.
As well as improving their health and fitness, allowing children to make their own way to school can also help them to become more confident and independent minded individuals. In fact, many teachers have commented that they believe pupils who walk or cycle to school are more alert and able to concentrate better than those who travel by car.
With this in mind, you would expect cycling to be a routine part of school life for most children.
In fact, while around 90% of children in the UK own bikes, it is estimated that fewer than 2% ride them to school. Unsurprisingly, the Government is encouraging schools to try to bridge that disparity in the figures by encouraging more pupils to cycle to school.
As well as short-term initiatives like Bike to School Week (which was in June this year), the Government wants schools to use their School Travel Plans – which all schools in England are required to have – to get more kids cycling to school. These plans must show what measures schools have in place to enable pupils to take regular exercise by encouraging and making it possible for them to get to school by bike (or on foot).
Some cycling support associations and charities have also suggested that schools should develop a formal cycling policy, possibly as part of their School Travel Plan. In essence, a policy of this kind would include features such as:
• Cycle permit scheme – setting out the rights and responsibilities of cyclists (and their parents), rules on cycling behaviour and guidance on helmet use;
• Secure cycle storage – offering safe and secure protection, i.e. cycle shelters, for children’s bikes;
• Other storage – providing places (e.g. lockers in waiting shelters) where pupils can leave their helmets, lights and outdoor clothing;
• Training – an essential part of any strategy to get more children cycling to school;
• Cycle maintenance – requiring pupils to get their bikes inspected for roadworthiness before bringing them into school, and providing basic cycle
maintenance classes at school.
With the weather finally improving and children looking for healthy ways to release their energy, now is arguably the perfect opportunity for schools to encourage their pupils to get on their bikes.
So, if you’re a headteacher or decision maker in a school, now is perhaps the time to ask yourself a simple question: is your school doing all it can in this area?