First off we want to offer a huge congratulations to Cale Green Primary for winning our Gold Award. It is one of a small but growing number of schools that has won a Gold Award in recognition of its sustained efforts to encourage more pupils to cycle, scoot or walk to school.
The school received funding to install two bike sheds and a scooter park as well as a cycle path to the school, and holds regular activities and events to encourage children to choose active travel. Two thirds of children regularly cycle, walk or scoot to school and on activity days this can leap to above 90%.
So how did they achieve such amazing results?
Headteacher David Marshall says the school is not in an affluent area with aspirations to cycle or walk. We asked him how he encouraged so many children to walk, cycle or scoot to school, what differences he's seen in the pupils, and what his top advice would be for schools hoping to emulate his success.
1. What simple things have you done to increase cycling/walking that other schools could try?
Every fortnight we give a free playtime and a trophy for the class which walks and cycles to school the most. The children love it. We also have an Eco Council run by the children. They plan activities and events such as Dr Bike sessions, Bike Breakfasts, Ditch the Stabilisers or Walk to School. We try to get involved in any national events like the Big Pedal and Superhero Day or Bling Your Bike. We’ve also made lots of links with local bike projects and other supportive organisations like Living Streets and Transport for Greater Manchester.
2. What is your aim?
We aim to get all children riding a balance bike by the end of the Early Years in preparation for riding without stabilizers. We have that top-line vision that everyone understands. There have been some memorable training days when the majority of a class of children who couldn’t ride go home cycling.
3. What has had the biggest impact?
We have some really committed teachers and volunteers who have worked incredibly hard to develop a supportive and enthusiastic school community in the widest sense, which encourages more walking and cycling to school. That sends a strong message to children, parents and funders.
4. How did you go about putting in bike sheds and cycle paths?
The second bike shed and scooter parks were one of the requirements for expansion of the school and were funded by the Local Authority. The cycle path was installed as part of a local area regeneration project by Groundwork. The children worked with them to develop the design of the mosaics on the path and to plant the trees. Getting the children involved with decision-making really helped to build enthusiasm for cycling and walking. Although the bike path is only short it demonstrates our commitment to cycling and it provides a bridge across a pedestrian area which prevent cars from using the road outside school as a ‘rat run’.
5. Does it make a difference?
Yes, I think so. The bike path goes right up to the school gates so children can just cycle straight in. Parents can’t park there so the street feels really safe to cycle in. Most children live within a mile of the school and there is a 20 mile per hour scheme in the area now too, which helps to create a good environment around the school for cycling and walking. All children do cycle training and road safety training so they are confident to travel on quiet roads until they reach the cycle route. We’ve since added another bike shed and a scooter shed.
6. What are the differences you’ve seen in the pupils?
The children arrive at school energised and ready to learn. They are really enthusiastic about cycling and fitness, and they understand that these activities impact on their own health and the environment. We know they take these values with them after they’ve left the school as we see former pupils cycling past on their way to high school.
7. How have parents reacted to the changes?
There has been a huge shift of attitudes over time towards cycling and walking to school which has been embraced by most of our families. The PTA funded our balance bikes and we often see parents cycling to school with their children then cycling off to work. Parents really want to be involved and even those that can’t cycle with their children will put the bikes in the car and park up so the children can at least cycle the last stretch to the school gate. This isn’t an area where cycling is mainstream but parents can see the culture we’ve created and they understand the benefits to their children.
8. Have there been any major barriers to changing attitudes?
I can honestly say we haven’t really experienced barriers to developing this policy. Parents have been supportive and local authorities and other organisations have given us a lot of help. We have a strong committed team of staff at the school who have the will to see this done properly and want to make the external links to make it happen.
9. What do you want to do next?
On a practical level we really need a new scooter park as it's struggling to cope with the increasing numbers. Scooters are a popular way of getting to school as they’re easier to handle and children can ride on the pavement. They are also a fashion at the moment! In the meantime we need to celebrate what we have done and sustain what we are doing to encourage more walking and cycling. That means an ongoing programme of activities and a supportive network of committed adults.
10. What one piece of advice would you give to a school which would like to boost cycling and walking?
You need a commitment from families, children, staff, parents and governors who all understand and support the aims of the project over a long period of time. Celebrate any small gains along the way to give the overall project impetus. Look for creative and enjoyable activities, encourage ‘pester power’ and support the project through the curriculum. It is vital to seek advice and guidance from outside partners such as Sustrans and grasp every opportunity which is offered.
So there it is, how one school achieved the amazing feat of having two thirds of children regularly cycle, walk or scoot to school, raising to a phenomenal above 90% on activity days.