September sees about 8 million pupils returning to school, or going for the first time. Around 35% will be driven to and from primary school, a journey with an average distance of 3 miles (significantly less in London where catchment areas are much smaller). Just 2% of primary school pupils and 3% of secondary school pupils will cycle to school, even though active travel options offer a range of benefits. So is it time to think about changing the school run, for the school ride?
According to a 2010 study by Sustrans, nearly half of children wanted to cycle to school, with parents citing safety as the most important reason for not allowing them to do so.
In fact, cycling to school can be a great way to instill road safety skills in young children, and to allow them to develop the ability to manage risk effectively. It also promotes independence, training them to make good decisions for themselves.
According to teachers, children who cycle or walk to school arrive more relaxed and ready to learn than those who are driven. Undertaking a regular journey by foot or by bike will also help children to meet the recommended levels of physical activity.
Encouraging more people to ditch their cars has associated benefits for the entire school community and beyond. Potentially dangerous congestion at the school gates is reduced, as are levels of pollution.
Things to consider
Younger children will be accompanied on their journey until the parents feel confident that they are able to make the trip independently.
Spend time planning a route, choosing quieter roads where possible. Ride the route together during the holidays when you have plenty of time. You don’t want to be doing it for the first time on a school morning when, chances are, everyone’s running late and emotions are running high.
Pay particular attention to busy junctions, pinch points, passing parked cars and other situations where road positioning is extra important.
If possible, find other parents and children to buddy up with so that they can share the journey with friends.
When sharing the roads with others, visibility is key so think about donning bright clothing or a day-glo tabard over the school uniform. Reflectors and lights are a must when the days grow shorter. Being visible to other road users is also about how and where you position your bicycle on the road, and this is where cycle training can come in…
Cycle training equips both adults and young people with the skills and the confidence they need to ride on the road. Lessons are available to individuals as well as to families. You can even use the session to test ride the school run alongside a qualified instructor who will have local knowledge. They will be able to give expert advice on particular roads and junctions, and also help with route planning.