Cycle Training in Primary Schools Research

1. Introduction

About this Report

1.1 This report sets out findings from qualitative research, which investigated the barriers facing primary schools in delivering on-road cycle training and goes on to explore how some primary schools have overcome these barriers.

1.2 Transport Scotland commissioned ODS Consulting to undertake this work between September and December 2010. The research findings will provide evidence to inform future approaches to cycle training.

Research Aims and Objectives

1.3 Transport Scotland and its partners want to ensure that all school children in primary six or seven are offered cycle training on public roads (Scottish Government, 2010).

1.4 The Scottish approach to supporting safer road travel is underpinned by strong evidence, research and evaluation (Scottish Government, 2009). Transport Scotland therefore commissioned this research to explore the barriers to on-road cycle training, and investigate the success factors in providing an effective on-road cycle training programme. The specific research objectives were to:

  • explore the processes involved in setting up, managing and maintaining on-road cycle training in primary schools and any difficulties encountered;
  • investigate the barriers relating to funding, resources, curriculum, risk and stakeholder relationships/ support, and identify other relevant difficulties;
  • explore issues which affect the schools which carry out a mix of on-road and off-road cycle training;
  • investigate and contrast the barriers from the perspectives of primary schools, volunteer trainers, road safety officers, active schools co-ordinators and other relevant networks within each case study; and
  • explore ideas for overcoming these barriers – what can be done and whose responsibility is this?

Research Context

Promoting safe cycling in Scotland

1.5 Scotland’s Road Safety Framework to 2020 (Scottish Government, 2009) sets out the vision that no-one is killed on Scotland’s roads. The Framework includes a commitment that the Scottish Government will encourage safe cycling in Scotland, both through education and training for cyclists, and raising awareness for other road users.

1.6 As part of this commitment, the Scottish Government produced a Cycling Action Plan (Scottish Government, 2010) with the overarching aim of ‘more people cycling more often’. Recent figures show that around one per cent of all journeys in Scotland are taken by bicycle (National Statistics and Scottish Government, 2009) and around two per cent of children cycle to school (Scottish Government, 2010). The Scottish Government aims for 10 per cent of all journeys to take place by bicycle by 2020.

1.7 The Cycling Action Plan for Scotland aims to encourage adults and children to cycle more often, through activities such as:

  • investing in the strategic national cycle network – and linking with local cycling networks;
  • working to make roads safe for all, including cyclists – through lower speed limits, good road design and good cycle infrastructure;
  • promoting cycling in relation to health and regeneration; and
  • investing in and co-ordinating cycle training activity.

1.8 Skills development for everyone is a critical aspect of the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland. The Action Plan specifically identifies the need for all primary six and seven pupils to have access to on-road cycle training, to ensure that they have the right skills and awareness to cycle safely and confidently. It aims to achieve:

‘An increase in pupils receiving on-road cycle training and an increase in the number of volunteers available to deliver the training.’

1.9 This report uses the terms ‘on-road’ cycle training and ‘off-road’ cycle training. The term ‘on-road’ cycle training is used to describe cycle training which is partially delivered in a real road environment. For primary six and seven pupils in Scotland, an ‘on-road’ training programme almost always comprises an element of practice in the playground initially, before moving to a real road environment. Research has shown that on-road training improves children’s practical skills and knowledge of road safety (Savill et al, 1996).

1.10 The term ‘off-road’ cycle training is used to describe cycle training which is entirely delivered in a place which is not a road. Usually this is the school playground.

Cycle Training in Scotland

1.11 At the time of undertaking this research, there were three cycle training programmes available for schools to deliver in Scotland. On 11 March 2011, these three levels were re-branded as Bikeability Scotland[3]. The three levels remain and have the same basic competencies, outcomes and associated resources as the levels previously available:

  • Bikeability Scotland 1: Ready Steady Bike is usually delivered in a traffic free environment. Those completing Level 1 will be able to demonstrate the skills and understanding to be able to make a trip and undertake activities safely in a motor traffic free environment and as a pre-requisite to a road trip[4].
  • Bikeability Scotland 2: Scottish Cycle Training Scheme is delivered on quiet roads but with real traffic conditions. Those completing Level 2 will be able to demonstrate the skills and understanding to be able to make a trip safely to school, work or leisure on quiet roads[5].
  • Bikeability Scotland 3: Go By Cycle is delivered on busy roads incorporating real traffic conditions and advanced road features. Those completing Level 3 will be able demonstrate the skills and understanding to be able to make a trip safely to school, work or leisure on busy roads and using complex junctions and road features[6].

1.12 This research focuses on Bikeability Scotland 2 - The Scottish Cycle Training Scheme, for primary six and seven pupils. Bikeability Scotland is co-ordinated by Cycling Scotland, through the Cycle Training Standards and Delivery Group.

Bikeability Scotland 2 - The Scottish Cycle Training Scheme

Aims and content

1.13 Bikeability Scotland 2 - The Scottish Cycle Training Scheme - aims to:

  • promote an understanding of the rules of the road, particularly as these apply to cyclists;
  • encourage a responsible attitude towards care and maintenance of bicycles;
  • encourage consideration of the risks and responsibilities of cycling;
  • enable cyclists to cope with common road and traffic situations involving decision-making; and
  • promote an understanding of the role of cycling as a healthy and environmentally sustainable form of transport.

1.14 Bikeability Scotland 2 - The Scottish Cycle Training Scheme links to the experiences and outcomes of the Curriculum for Excellence, in particular (although not exclusively) Health and Wellbeing:

  • Physical wellbeing
  • I am learning to assess and manage risk, to protect myself and others, and to reduce the potential for harm when possible.
  • I know and I can demonstrate how to keep myself and others safe and how to respond in a range of emergency situations.
  • I know and can demonstrate how to travel safely.
  • Physical activity
  • I can explain why I need to be active on a daily basis to maintain good health and try to achieve a good balance of sleep, rest and physical activity.
  • I am experiencing enjoyment and achievement on a daily basis by taking part in different kinds of energetic physical activities of my choosing, including sport and opportunities for outdoor learning, available at my place of learning and in the wider community.
  • Planning for choices and changes
  • Opportunities to carry out different activities and roles in a variety of settings have enabled me to identify my achievements, skills and areas for development. This will help me prepare for the next stage in my life and learning.

1.15 The programme consists of a practical element and a classroom based element. The practical training involves learning to stop, start, overtake, turn left and turn right. The classroom sessions involve learning about cycle maintenance, understanding roads, the correct position for undertaking manoeuvres, and understanding traffic signs, road markings, the environment and assessing risks.

1.16 The training can be delivered in a real road environment, in the playground or in a combination of settings. Bikeability Scotland 2 - The Scottish Cycle Training Scheme does not specify a preferred setting for any of the practical lessons, instead leaving this responsibility to the local Road Safety Officers, Active Schools Co-ordinators, school and trainers. If the Scottish Cycle Training Scheme is delivered on-road, it meets the requirements of Level Two of the National Standards for Cycle Training.


1.17 Bikeability Scotland 2 - The Scottish Cycle Training Scheme is delivered through joint working at a local level, between primary schools, Road Safety Officers[7] and/ or Active Schools Co-ordinators[8], and parents, school staff and others who volunteer as trainers. Generally, the Road Safety Officers or Active Schools Co-ordinators encourage, support and facilitate the development of cycle training programmes within primary schools. The classroom training tends to be delivered by classroom teachers, with the practical training delivered by volunteers – including staff and parents – with some support from Road Safety Officers or Active School Co-ordinators.


1.18 There is limited evidence about uptake of the Scottish Cycle Training Scheme. In 2001, research found that around 20 per cent of eligible (primary six and seven) pupils in Scotland completed off-road cycle training, and 10 per cent completed on-road training (Scottish Executive, 2001). A study exploring local authority cycling policy in 2008 suggested that almost one-third of local authorities provided no on-road delivery (Cycling Scotland, 2008). This study suggested that on average, cycle skills development policy and activity across local authorities in Scotland did not improve significantly between 2005 and 2008.

1.19 Since 2005, Road Safety Scotland (now part of Transport Scotland) has gathered data from Road Safety Officers and Active Schools Co-ordinators about the level and type of cycle training offered in each local authority area. The information gathered includes the number of schools offering training, the location of this training, the number of pupils participating, the way in which pupils are assessed, and responsibility for delivering the training. Where training takes place in the playground, rather than on-road, some basic commentary and anecdotal evidence is gathered on why this is.

1.20 Information is available for 2009/10 for 28 local authority areas, containing a total of 1,832 primary schools. This showed that:

  • almost all schools (98 per cent) were offered support with cycle training from their Road Safety Unit or Active Schools Co-ordinator;
  • two thirds of schools (66 per cent) undertook cycle training in 2009/10;
  • one fifth of schools (21 per cent) offered on-road cycle training; and
  • four fifths of schools (79 per cent) did not offer on-road cycle training.

1.21 The picture varied considerably across local authority areas. Some had no schools undertaking on-road training. In some cases this was a deliberate policy decision by the local authority, and in others it was due to preferences of individual schools. In contrast, other areas had almost all schools undertaking on-road training, and some a mix of both[9].

1.22 Anecdotal evidence gathered by Road Safety Scotland suggests that there is general support for on-road training from the road safety community in Scotland. A small number of local authorities were piloting a shift to on-road delivery, with dedicated support for three or four schools each year.

1.23 However, over half of schools offering cycle training in Scotland did not offer any on-road element to the training in 2009/10, and almost one third offered no cycle training at all. In this context, Transport Scotland was keen to explore the barriers to introducing on-road cycle training for primary school pupils.

Research Method

1.24 The research involved detailed case studies of eleven primary schools in Scotland. It explored their approach to cycle training; their experiences of planning, delivering and sustaining effective training; and the barriers to introducing and maintaining on-road cycle training. It involved telephone interviews with those involved in planning and delivering cycle training programmes – including Road Safety Officers, Active Schools Co-ordinators, head teachers, classroom teachers, support staff, volunteer trainers and, where possible, representatives from the parent council. More detail on the methodology is included in Chapter Two.

Report Structure

1.25 This report sets out the findings from this research. Chapter Two sets out the methods used in this study and Chapters Three, Four, Five and Six set out the key findings. The full case studies are included as Appendix One, and copies of the discussion guides used are included as Appendix Two.