How to encourage cycling at schools with anti-cycling policies
1) Why cycle to school?
We believe all children should have the opportunity to cycle to school. It contributes to the government recommended 60 minutes of moderate exercise each day, tackles obesity and helps them concentrate in the classroom. Cycling also gives children autonomy and the opportunity to learn how to explore and navigate their environment safely on their own – both of which are vital life skills. It is also inexpensive, good for the environment, and can help cut down on the congestion caused by the 29% of trips between 8 and 9am in Great Britain caused by the school run.
There are so many reasons for children to cycle to school, yet currently only 1% of British primary and 2% of secondary school children do, as opposed to half of children in the Netherlands.
However, over half of f UK children say they would rather cycle to school than be driven. On the other hand, there are also many reasons that schools and parents give for not allowing children to cycle. These are mostly grounded in fear – fear that children will not cycle safely, that surrounding motorists will drive dangerously, or that children alone in public are at risk. These fears simply do not reflect real experience, as discussed below:
- Children can learn safe cycling through cycle training. Bikeability, the Government-backed national standard, provides three levels of cycle training for real-world conditions. Bikeability helps children protect themselves by teaching the techniques for looking and anticipating the movements of motorists and other road users. Children can also learn safe cycling by riding regularly with their parents or other skilled adult cyclists.
- It’s true that cycling has more inherent dangers than staying indoors wrapped in cotton wool. However, the health benefits of cycling - in terms of greater cardiovascular fitness, reduced levels of some cancers and obesity - far outweigh the risk of being hurt in a traffic crash. Furthermore, the risk involved in cycling is similar or less than the risk involved in many other everyday activities. A person is less likely to be injured in an hour of cycling than in an hour of gardening. (See CTC's briefing on Cycling and Health).
- For children, cycling is a particularly good way of doing two things at the same time: commuting and keeping fit. A recent study of 6,000 school pupils in eastern England showed that 10-16 year old boys who regularly cycled to school were 30% more likely to meet recommended fitness levels, while girls who cycled were 7 times more likely to do so.
- The risk presented by ‘stranger danger’ is greatly exaggerated by the media. Since 1985 there has been no increase in the numbers of children killed by strangers. Allowing children to navigate their environments starting with short journeys – which is what many home to school trips are – helps prepare them for further travel later in life.
The evidence clearly shows that cycling is a safe and healthy way to get to school!