Over the past 2 years we dedicated a lot of our resource into figuring out why cycling is absent as an activity at school.
We began by surveying 3 secondary and 3 primary schools in our local area to see if cycling was offered at school and compared this with other activities offered at school. 3557 pupils in total - around 32% of pupils in the Armagh/Dungannon area.
We found that only 15 pupils were offered cycling as an activity. These pupils were in P7 and the principal took them for cycling proficiency at the end of the term… if the weather was good. It turned out the weather was bad and it didn’t go ahead.
Only 1% of journeys in NI are taken by bike.
0% of pupils at secondary school are offered cycling as an activity.
Can you join the dots?
When we looked at the activities they did support we found that the more resource and effort given to an activity - the more popular it was.
Zumba more popular than cycling at school
For example – we found that swimming was the 4th most popular activity at school even though none of the schools have a swimming pool on campus – obvously. Pools are booked, busses are hired and children are driven to the nearest leisure centre. Swimming is a named activity in the school curriculum, as it is deemed "a life survival skill".
Unsurprisingly, cycling was rock bottom. Zumba was more popular. That may seem hard to believe but not when you look at the curriculum.
Cycle culture at school
When asked why schools didn’t offer cycling as an activity, the consensus was… “we never really thought of it”. Some were aware of MTB trails and bike pods nearby, but never thought of applying these to their school's activities - in the same way they do the local swimming pool.
The 2 biggest obstacles the schools faced weren’t safety and cycle infrastructure - it was equipment and guidance. In fact, the majority of schools thought it was safe to cycle to school.
Cycling isn’t mentioned in the NI curriculum. The reason why most schools haven’t thought about cycling as an activity is because it has never been suggested to them.
While there is a GCSE for Motor Vehicle and Road User Studies – cycling as an activity is entirely absent – and therefore missing in schools.
We then worked on a pilot project with 3 secondary schools in the area to see if we could persuade children to have a go at cycling.
The take up was immediate and after 1 session the demand just grew. When children – stuck in the classroom – saw other pupils zipping around the playground and heading off around town for a cycle - unsurprisingly demand suddenly shot up. We were unable to meet the demand.
In 6 weeks cycling was popular as basketball or rugby.
Given more time and more resources it would be as popular as soccer – without a doubt.
You can read the full report here.