10 things we have learnt from working with schools

By Chris Bennett,
Sustrans Bike It Festival, Lee Valley Velopark, London 2016

75% of pupils would travel actively if they had the choice. Image credit Jonathan Bewley

Kids with bikes for Bike It launch

Launch of Bike It in York, 10 years ago

At Sustrans, we are passionate about helping more children to walk and cycle to and from school. Since 2004, we have worked with more than 2,000 schools across the UK, helping children build walking and cycling into their everyday school journey and instill a love of activity in them.

Through our school porgrammes (Bike It in England and Wales, Bike It Plus in London, iBike in Scotland or Active School Travel Programme in Northern Ireland) we enable more pupils, parents and teachers to walk and cycle by developing their skills and confidence, encouraging greater road awareness, and highlighting safer routes to school.

The programmes are run by our school officers who are experts in getting children to walk, cycle or scoot the school journey.

Here are 10 things they’ve learnt:

1. Start young

Although our target year groups are still KS2 (pupils aged 7-11) in primary schools, we have developed more activities to engage and develop the skills of younger pupils. For example, our Ditch the Stabilisers sessions, which teach children how to cycle independently, have become one of the most popular activities we offer in schools. Children who cycle to school from a young age are more likely to sustain this behaviour as they become older. Ditch the Stabilisers or Learn to Ride sessions are also a great way to raise awareness of Sustrans with parents and carers, and to gain their support for other activities we organise at the school.

2. One step at a time

Park and stride/ride are a great way to involve families who need to rely on the car for part of the journey. Walking or cycling part of the way is a great way to get started, as these often become full walking or cycling journeys.

3. Balance bike is the perfect start  

Balance bikes allow pupils to meet so many of the early years’ physical development standards as laid out by the Department for Education, they really should be standard equipment across all schools. Sustrans has supported the provision of more than 100 balance bikes in Bedfordshire alone.

4. Safe routes to school are essential 

We know more needs to be done. We know young people want to cycle to school but safe routes are the main barrier. We are working with communities to help redesign the space outside schools. This is vital to truly transform how young people get to school.

5. Getting families on board is key

In order to create real change, we need to engage the whole family; that includes parents too. Through Our Bike It You Can Too project in London, and other similar projects across the country we’ve been giving families, particularly mums, the skills and confidence to cycle. This also creates wider benefits by encouraging families to be active together.

6. Work in partnership and tailor to local needs 

The school porgrammes have evolved in different parts of the country to meet local needs and priorities. We work differently in large cities in comparison to our approach with rural populations.

We also work in partnership with organisations such as Modeshift, Bikeability providers and Living Streets, so we can have the biggest impact.

7. Walking and cycling is part of the solution 

We are now more aware of all the benefits of getting pupils to walk, cycle and scoot to school can bring. We’ve always known travelling this way helps young people get active and improves congestion by reducing car trips. Now, we know walking and cycling to and from school reduces emissions and helps improve air quality, as well as having a positive impact on children’s wellbeing, resilience and life skills.

8. Young people want to be active

Our surveys show 75% of pupils would travel actively if they had the choice. Our work is all about enabling schoolchildren to travel the way they want to.

9. It’s not all about the bike

We’re encouraging young people not only to cycle but to walk, scoot, skate or park and stride/ride. Promoting all forms of active travel means our work in schools is now more inclusive, more accessible, improves engagement with younger children and parents, and ultimately leads to more people travelling in ways that benefit their health and the environment.

10. Build trust right from the start 

We know trust is the foundation of an excellent school engagement programme and we establish it as quickly as possible. We do this through communicating clearly what we deliver, and then achieving this to the quality standard of the school and the Funder.

And finally... our school programmes work

The evidence shows our work with schools has a massive impact. Through our well designed, creative and innovative school programmes we have doubled the number of pupils cycling to school.

In 2015/16 we increased the number of pupils travelling to school on foot, by bike or by scooter. We grew the number of pupils cycling to school to 8.5%, representing an 88% increase on the previous year. We also reduced the number of pupils travelling by car by 14%.

The number of pupils travelling by bike to schools working with Sustrans is five times more than the national average. (Sustrans Hands Up Surveys England and Wales 2015/16).

We continue calling on governments across the UK to work in partnership with us to increase our scale and impact to enable more children to walk and cycle. We want to work with more children, teachers and parents to transform the school run. Get in touch with us.  

With thanks to:
Alister Barclay, Schools Officer, Dunstable
Richard Noon, Bike It Officer Luton
Beth Harding and the Active Travel Schools team in Northern Ireland
Rowan Wilson, Delivery Coordinator East of England

Find out how we change travel behaviour in schools

Case study: working in Bradford to get 4,230 children moving