Cycle Training in Primary Schools Research

2. Research Methods


2.1 This research was qualitative and involved developing eleven detailed case studies setting out the experience of planning, delivering and sustaining cycle training in primary schools across Scotland. Our overall approach to this study involved:

  • selecting local authority areas from which case study schools would be identified;
  • obtaining permission from Directors of Education;
  • telephone interviews with Road Safety Officers in eight local authority areas;
  • selecting four local authority case study areas to proceed with;
  • identifying two preferred schools in each case study area;
  • obtaining permission from the head teacher;
  • telephone interviews with head teachers and/or classroom teachers in each case study school;
  • telephone interviews with volunteer trainers and parents (where possible) in each case study school;
  • further detailed telephone interviews with road safety officers in each of the four chosen case study local authority areas;
  • analysis; and
  • reporting.

Rationale for Qualitative Research

2.2 Transport Scotland was clear that it wanted to obtain in depth information about the barriers to on-road cycle training in primary schools. A qualitative approach was adopted, to gather this in depth information. Qualitative research focuses on exploring perspectives, attitudes, behaviours and experiences.

2.3 This study adopted a case study approach, focusing on exploring the perspectives of different stakeholders in eleven schools across Scotland. A case study approach allows comparison of the views and experiences of different individuals at the same school - including head teachers, classroom teachers, support staff, parents, Road Safety Officers and Active Schools Co-ordinators. It also provides a detailed picture of experiences, allowing development of a rich story of the school’s experience in relation to cycle training.

2.4 Case study research is therefore very useful in exploring complex questions or issues – such as the many different factors that influence the development of on-road cycle training. Case studies are time and resource intensive, meaning that often a small number of case studies are undertaken at any one time.

2.5 Different schools across Scotland will experience different barriers to on-road cycle training, and this research was only able to explore a small number of experiences. Although the research was designed to include a range of schools with different experiences, the findings may not necessarily be transferable.

Selecting Local Authority Areas

2.6 In discussion with the Research Advisory Group[10], case study schools in four local authority areas were selected. In identifying this mix, we considered:

  • geography – including city, urban, small town and rural authority areas with a geographic spread across Scotland (using the Scottish Government Rural/ Urban Classification);
  • deprivation – the relative level of deprivation in each local authority based on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation; and
  • cycle training – considering levels of cycle training within the local authority, type of training offered, and levels of cycling to school.

2.7 As the case studies have been produced on an anonymous basis, the eight potential local authority areas are not identified within this report.

Interviews with Road Safety Officers

2.8 There is a network of 22 Road Safety Units across Scotland, responsible for promoting awareness of road safety issues. A semi-structured telephone interview was held with one Road Safety Officer or Active Schools Co-ordinator in potential local authority areas, to explore:

  • their involvement in introducing, planning, delivering and maintaining cycle training;
  • the local authority’s general position on the level and type of cycle training offered at primary schools;
  • their views of on-road cycle training specifically and what the barriers to delivering on-road training could be; and
  • specific information about potential case study schools in their area – including exploring the type of cycle training offered, any innovative approaches, and potential interest in participating as a case study.

2.9 The knowledge of Road Safety Officers was used to inform the selection of the local authorities and schools to be included in this research.

Identifying Case Study Schools

2.10 A long list of potential case study schools was identified across the four case study areas, using a range of information to inform this selection:

  • Statistical information – the Scottish Government Rural/ Urban Classification and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation were used to take into account location and deprivation.
  • Existing information – such as considering the primary schools which had achieved Cycle Friendly status with Cycling Scotland.
  • Information about the cycle training programme - RSOs generally had detailed knowledge of the cycle training programme offered by schools, and provided details on the type of cycle training offered, the history of cycle training, and the potential interest in participating as a case study.
  • Interesting approaches – Schools which had taken particularly innovative approaches, overcome key barriers such as location or staff attitudes, or introduced new approaches to on-road training were prioritised.

2.11 We discussed the potential schools with the Research Advisory Group and reached joint agreement on the mix of eight schools, which offered the best range of characteristics, experiences and geographical spread, to ensure a useful range of schools.

2.12 A dedicated member of the research team contacted each head teacher to ask for permission to involve this school as a case study. In some areas, Road Safety Officers helped to encourage schools to become involved. In one area, the Director of Education contacted schools directly to explore interest in participation.

2.13 As a result, we identified eleven schools who were interested in participating as case studies. With the agreement of the Research Advisory Group, we included all eleven as case studies. The final mix of case study schools therefore varies slightly from the original matrix:

Schools Identified for Training
Type of training Local authority type Level of deprivation Interesting aspects
On-road training as the norm (5 schools) Rural
In 15% most deprived Initially resistant to on-road training
Not in 15% most deprived Offering on-road training on busy 60mph road
Small town
Not in 15% most deprived Moved to on-road four years ago
Small town
Not in 15% most deprived Strong and stable on-road programme
Not in 15% most deprived On-road training in a city environment
Piloting on-road training (1 school) Urban
Not in 15% most deprived On-road training initiated by probationary teacher
Off-road training only (2 schools)
In 15% most deprived Recently amalgamated school keen to promote training
Not in 15% most deprived Explored range of on-road options in recent years
No cycle training (3 schools) City
Not in 15% most deprived Some resistance to any cycle training from school
In 15% most deprived Head teacher keen to introduce training
Not in 15% most deprived Head teacher keen to introduce training

Undertaking Fieldwork

2.14 Once the head teacher confirmed that the school would participate as a case study school, we made arrangements to interview:

  • the head teacher – if involved in planning, maintaining or delivering cycle training;
  • the classroom teacher – or other support staff involved in co-ordinating or delivering cycle training;
  • a volunteer trainer – either a staff member or parent volunteer[11];
  • a member of the parent council – or other parent representative as appropriate; and
  • the Road Safety Officer or Active Schools Co-ordinator – responsible for supporting the development of cycle training at that school.

2.15 The head teacher or another key member of staff took the lead in co-ordinating participation of teachers, support staff and parents from the school. All schools were offered either a telephone interview or face to face meeting, and all indicated a preference for telephone interviews. Each interview lasted approximately 30 to 45 minutes.

2.16 Interviews explored the individual’s involvement in planning, delivering or sustaining cycle training at the school. We explored views on the success of current cycle training programmes, attitudes to on-road training, and perceived barriers associated with on-road training. The discussion guides are included as Appendix Two.

2.17 The research undertaken at each school varied, depending on whether cycle training was being offered, and the range of individuals involved in planning and delivering cycle training. In some schools, roles overlapped. For example, a parent was often both a volunteer trainer and a member of the parent council. Often, the same staff member planned and delivered the practical element of the cycle training programme. Overall, the case studies involved interviews with:

  • three Road Safety Officers and two Active Schools Co-ordinators;
  • nine head teachers or deputy head teachers;
  • eight staff volunteer trainers - largely classroom assistants or support staff; and
  • seven parent volunteers or members of the Parent Council.

2.18 A note of the role of the individuals consulted at each school is included at the end of each case study.

Analysis and Reporting

2.19 Telephone interviews were recorded using hand written notes, and transferred to an electronic record complete with verbatim quotes on key points. We reviewed key themes, using manual thematic coding. This involves reviewing interview notes, identifying themes and sorting information according to these themes. It is then possible to review the volume of comments relating to each theme, and review similarities and differences in opinion. A discussion session also took place among the researchers to ensure that all the key themes emerging from the interviews were covered.

2.20 We produced eleven anonymised case studies, setting out the experiences and attitudes at each school (Appendix One). These case studies were sent to the schools for comment. The report focuses on the key findings from across the case studies.