Making kids fitter
Nationally, 50 per cent of children get less than the recommended one hour a day of moderate physical activity. Nearly a quarter of primary school children are overweight and numbers are rising.
Cycling to school is an enjoyable, affordable way for children to get much-needed physical exercise. By supporting cycling, your school would be taking an active role in promoting healthy lifestyles. Patterns of adult activity are established in childhood, so the improvement in your pupils health could be life-long.
Helping kids perform better
Teachers in schools across the UK have reported that pupils who walk or cycle to school are more alert and concentrate better than those who travel by car. A recent US study showed a positive link between physical activity and performance in school tests.
Fostering independence and teaching life skills
The physical effort of cycling to school has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and improve childrens self-confidence and independence.
Cycling teaches important life skills. Parents who drive their children to school risk creating a habit of dependency that undermines childrens confidence and self-reliance. Cycling to school after appropriate cycle training helps children develop road sense, assess risk and think for themselves.
Reducing road congestion and pollution
A higher level of cycling to school will reduce road congestion around the school entrance, a big problem for most schools with limited drop-off space.
Traffic congestion is potentially dangerous as well as annoying and stressful. Cars jostling for space set up a vicious circle, as the roads become less safe and even more parents decide to drive their kids to school. Pro-cycling policies can reverse this trend, reducing road congestion and making things much safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
Higher levels of cycling also cut local traffic emissions, benefiting the growing number of children who suffer from asthma. People sometimes worry that children who cycle will be exposed to traffic fumes, but research shows that children inside cars are exposed to three times as much pollution as those outside.
Its what children want!
90 per cent of children have bikes and over 30 per cent would like to cycle to school, but only one per cent do. Encouraging children to cycle and helping them do so safely sends out positive messages about school life. It gives children a role in improving their own environment and personal sense of wellbeing.
Pro-cycling policies are most effective if the whole school is involved in creating them. Developing a formal School Cycling Policy, possibly as part of a School Travel Plan, will get your pro-cycling project off to a good start.
What should feature in a schools Cycling Policy?
Here's a checklist of things you need to think about...
Cycle Permit scheme:This should set out the rights and responsibilities of cyclists (and their parents), rules on cycling behaviour and guidance on helmet use.
Cycle storage: Pupils wont cycle to school if they or their parents feel bikes cant be stored safely, so providing safe secure cycle storage is a key part of any pro-cycling scheme.
Other storage:A further incentive is created by the provision of storage facilities where pupils who cycle can leave helmets, lights and outdoor clothing.
Training: Cycle training must be part of any strategy to get more children cycling to school. There's info on the new National Standard for cycle training here: http://www.bikebiz.co.uk/.../article.php?id=4797
Cycle maintenance: A Cycling Policy may require pupils to get their bikes inspected for roadworthiness before bringing them into school.
One way of encouraging pupils to look after their bikes properly is to offer cycle maintenance classes at school and make an area of the school available for cycle repairs. Owners of bikes judged not to be roadworthy could have their cycle permit withdrawn temporarily.
Car parking: Cutting the number of parking spaces around the school gates can improve safety and encourage cycling. Even better, create car-free entrances for cyclists and walkers or hold back cars until cyclists and walkers have left.
If you want to change the parking regulations outside the school you will need the support of your local authority.
Road design: Improving safety outside the school may involve working with traffic planners and engineers in your local authority to redesign the routes taken by pupils, looking at traffic calming measures, new and improved cycle lanes, 20mph speed restrictions, additional crossings, new signs and markings.
Other school policies: Sometimes small changes to school policies or practice can make it easier for pupils to cycle to school. You may like to consider:
* Making sure pupils are not overloaded with books on the journey to and from school. Many children cite heavy school bags as a reason for not cycling to school.
* Letting pupils who walk or cycle to school leave school ahead of those being picked up by a car.
* Reviewing your school uniform. If girls aren't allowed to wear trousers this can seriously affect their willingness to cycle.
You should also consider pupil visibility. Most school uniforms are dark and don't show up very well in the winter months. As you will be hoping to increase the number of cyclists quite dramatically, you may well be able to negotiate discounts for pupils at local bike shops (or through the local authority) on things like reflective clothing, lights, helmets, panniers (for books) and other accessories.
The Bike Hub funded website portal Bikeforall is packed with links to further information. http://www.bikeforall.net
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT"S DUE:
The above text has been adapted from the literature supplied to children by the new Bike It scheme. Bike It is a pilot, cycling-to-school scheme being tested in 40 schools across England. It is supported by the National Cycling Strategy Board, the Department for Transport and funded by the cycle industry from the Bike Hub levy scheme. The scheme is managed by Sustrans.