Getting Children Cycling – On Roads!
Maybe you’ve noticed an increase in groups of children in high visibility jackets cycling on a range of roads around your local area during the school day since the summer?
You might have recollections of ‘cycling proficiency’ from your own or children’s times with all its signalling and going round cones and wondered why they’re not sticking to cycle paths or the playground.
Welcome to the new 21st century ‘Bikeabilty’, which is as different from ‘Cycling Proficiency’ as the smartphone is to the original Alexander Bell telephone!
Bikeability has now been operating for over 10 years, but over the last few months has undergone an even more radical overhaul in Reading with the roll out of the new scheme with an emphasis on giving children the maximum exposure to independent cycling on roads.
Would you cycle down Basingstoke or Henley Road? Well plenty of Bikeability trainees have!
As Bikeability instructors (also parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles) we have an immense responsibility for ensuring the children’s early experience of cycling on roads and in areas with traffic is a good one – both from safety and enjoyment!
It’s a hugely rewarding role – from the look of joy on a child’s face when they first balance while pedalling, to seeing them develop on roads and eager to cycle more!
We want to encourage more children to cycle to school and on other journeys more often with their parents and friends or even alone, and this generation of Bikeability trainees will have been given more skills than the majority of adults on bikes!
It’s a hugely rewarding role. Funded by central government, Bikeability is provided free to schools and parents/children mainly during term time, but also run in holiday or afterschool clubs.
Focusing on the four main skills: observation, communication, positioning and priorities, it teaches ‘real’ cycling. Level 1 covers the basic bike handling skills in a non-road environment: including steering, braking, signalling and using gears.
Level 2 then moves onto roads in groups of up to six children, with the focus on them gaining rapid experience of cycling with traffic and learning how and where to cycle safely. Generally it’s run in Year 5 (which are 9 and 10 year olds).
Level 3 is generally taken in Year 6 (for 10 and 11 year olds) and takes Level 2 skills to busier roads and includes more complex junctions such as roundabouts. The aim is to enable children to cycle alone on the majority of roads around Reading and onto their senior school in Year 7.
Many adults would consider this very early to be giving 9-11 year old children such freedom, but experience across the country and thorough training and experience of Bikeability Instructors has proven otherwise.
In addition to providing pupils with valuable road safety skills, Bikeability supports School Travel Plans, which have a target to reduce the number of children arriving by car.
There is also a national scheme called ‘Modeshift Stars’, which recognises and rewards schools that have demonstrated excellence in supporting cycling, walking and other forms of sustainable transport.
We all know the arguments in support of cycling, including health and the environment, but the barriers are also too readily given. However, the one most often cited by parents, that roads are too dangerous, is a self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to the ‘school run’.
We all see huge congestion around school start and finish times, which diminishes in the holidays, so initiatives helping to reduce this are welcomed. And if more children did cycle, then of course the roads would be much quieter!
In addition to delivering Bikeability, teaching children to learn to ride and also running bike maintenance sessions with and for children, Avanti Cycling has been piloting ‘Bike Trains’ in several schools. Working with local parents, this can be a great way of getting nervous parents/children to cycle ‘independently’.
Anyone interested in helping set up or run one of these at their children’s school should contact their school’s Bikeability Co-ordinator or Greg Woodford of Avanti Cycling on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit avanticycling.co.uk/bikeability
We’re really pleased that the DfT has recently increased the number of funded places for Bikeability, which means that Reading schools have an additional 400 places in 2018/19, bringing the total to over 2,000 places across the various levels.
So if you have school age children or grandchildren or friends/neighbours, do encourage them to take Bikeability training and keep on cycling!
Karen Robertson Events Coordinator