Cycle Training in Primary Schools Research

5. Barriers to On-Road Cycle Training


5.1 Five of the case study schools were not delivering on-road training (and three did not deliver any training at all). This chapter explores barriers to introducing on-road cycle training. It also explores the challenges experienced by schools with on-road cycle training programmes, and how the schools managed to overcome these barriers.

Barriers to On-Road Training

Ensuring pupil safety

5.2 Most of the challenges experienced by schools with on-road cycle training related to ensuring pupil safety in an on-road environment. Schools offering on-road training felt that for pupils to be safe on the roads it was vital that there were enough volunteers in place to supervise the children, that the volunteers were skilled, and that the training took place in a realistic but safe location.

5.3 Pupil safety was also the biggest concern for schools not offering on-road training. All five schools without an on-road cycle training programme felt that they would require more volunteers to be able to deliver the training safely on-road, to ensure a reasonable ratio of adults to children. Two also raised concerns about their location and pupil safety.

Attracting volunteer trainers

5.4 Overall, participants felt that it required more volunteer resources to run an on-road training programme. Schools offering on-road training found that the biggest challenge was attracting enough volunteer trainers. Parents tended to be involved while their own children were of age to take part in the training, with the numbers fluctuating each year.

‘My comfort in providing the training has grown over the years, but I can’t become lax. As long as I’ve got helpers I’m comfortable. But if I don’t have enough volunteers then I take the training back to the playground.’
(Staff volunteer trainer)

5.5 Four of the five schools not offering on-road training indicated that they would be prepared to consider it if they were able to attract more volunteers. Two of the three schools not offering any cycle training were keen to do so, but had struggled to identify volunteers to deliver the training. And the two schools delivering off-road training would be prepared to consider on-road training, but only with more volunteers.

5.6 In one school, existing volunteers involved in off-road training had considered the possibility of delivering cycle training on-road, but were not comfortable with taking responsibility for pupil safety without more volunteers to support them. Another school echoed these views.

‘I was keen to take the classes on-road to heighten the children’s awareness. Trying to explain to children the dangers they face on the road is not easy when you have to get them to imagine. If they were on the road it would be much easier. The course would be more real, but I would need additional help from volunteers.’ (Volunteer trainer)

Volunteer skills and confidence

5.7 When schools began to deliver on-road training, some volunteers – both staff and parents – were concerned. Most were worried about being able to keep the children safe on the roads, and felt that it was a big responsibility.

‘Sometimes I feel very alone, very responsible and very pressured.’
(Volunteer trainer)

‘It was quite nerve wracking taking the children on to the main road the first time. It still is that first week, but the kids are well warned about the dangers they face and their responsibilities.’
(Volunteer trainer)

‘It was a big responsibility, but it went absolutely fine. The kids got to experience a real life situation. They seemed to appreciate the scenario more than being on the playground.’
(Volunteer trainer)

5.8 However, generally volunteers felt that they had received strong support from RSOs through the transition to on-road training. This included training – which volunteers praised - and a presence by RSOs at some on-road sessions, to support volunteers. The training provided to volunteers varied. In some cases, volunteers received one to one support going over the on-road training programme and exploring what is involved for children. In other cases, RSOs organised joint training sessions, bringing volunteers together. Volunteers at two schools suggested that it would be useful to have more training sessions for volunteers, covering both on and off-road practical training.

Investing in on-road skills

One of the case study schools had invested in developing the skills of those delivering their on-road cycle training programme. Staff had attended a four day ‘Cycle Trainer’ course run by Cycling Scotland to prepare for delivering on-road training. This type of investment required the full support of the head teacher at each school, and this training took place at a school where the head teacher valued the cycle training programme and was keen to sustain and develop it.

For more about this approach see Case Study 6.

School location and logistics

5.9 There were varied views about whether schools located on busy roads could safely deliver on-road training. Two schools felt that they could not offer on-road training due to their location. Both schools were very concerned about road safety issues, and at one school there had been a pupil accident (non cycle related) on the road where the school is located. Another school was located in an area of relative deprivation, and was concerned about the safety of children if training took place in a nearby housing estate – which would be otherwise suitable for training.

5.10 Parents and teachers sometimes had different views. For example, while teachers at one school did not think that any on-road training could take place, parents suggested that there were suitable, quieter streets nearby that the school could use instead – provided children practiced in the playground initially.

Exploring on-road options

At one school, the head teacher was keen to identify a location where training could take place on-road. The school had worked with the RSO to identify a suitable location, but there was a logistical problem as to how to get the pupils there and back safely. The proposed location was too far from the school to cycle and despite exploring various options, the school has not been able to introduce on-road cycle training.

For more about this approach see Case Study 4.

5.11 Some of the schools offering on-road training had initial reservations about location, with concerns over safety. However, with support from the RSO these schools were able to introduce successful on-road programmes through:

  • putting up signs alerting drivers to the training;
  • asking children to wear fluorescent tabards;
  • increasing the ratio of volunteers to children[13];
  • closely controlling the manoeuvres children made on the road; and
  • gradually progressing from off-road, to quiet roads, to busier roads.

‘A good example of a school making the most of the position they are in…and still being able to deliver on-road cycle training safely, with the use of appropriate signage and the use by adults and children alike of high visibility clothing.’
(Road Safety Officer)

Resistance to change

5.12 Two of the case study schools had been offering off-road cycle training following the same format of delivery for at least 15 years. Another school which had recently piloted on-road training had also offered off-road training for a long period of time. While some teachers and volunteers were interested in exploring other approaches, some felt content that their existing programmes were effective and there was no significant reason to change. Some participants were concerned that schools did not appear to be proactively addressing the barriers to on-road training, and seemed content to continue with off-road training.


5.13 One school felt that there would be considerable administrative barriers to taking pupils into an on-road environment. It felt that on-road cycle training would not be feasible due to the volume of paperwork required to take pupils out of the school – even for a walk. It believed that the ‘burden’ of paperwork would be restrictive. None of the other case study schools mentioned administration or paperwork as a barrier.

External support

5.14 The case studies highlighted that in some cases, Road Safety Officers used to provide more direct support in delivering cycle training programmes. However, some RSOs have moved to a support and facilitation role, and do not have the resources to deliver cycle training programmes. This may be linked to structural changes within local authorities and police forces. One school was concerned that the RSOs may stop conducting the bicycle checks and request that the volunteer trainers take on this role. Volunteers did not feel that they would be able to undertake this task, and were concerned about the safety of children on the road as a result.

Barriers to Cycle Training More Generally

5.15 Three schools were not delivering any cycle training at all. These schools identified barriers to providing any kind of cycle training – whether on or off-road.

Availability of suitable bicycles

5.16 Three schools indicated that some of their pupils would not own or be able to borrow a bike to take part in the training. Two of these schools were in areas of high deprivation, and another was in a central area where over half of pupils were entitled to free school meals. One school had worked to get round this issue by borrowing bikes from the local authority. It also found that sometimes children’s bikes do not pass the initial safety check, and parents do not help the child to make the necessary changes. Two did not provide any cycle training.

‘The children would all need to access roadworthy bikes and most are not from particularly wealthy backgrounds.’
(Head teacher)

5.17 One school was also concerned that it did not have the facilities in the playground to store bicycles securely, and that there would be a high risk of vandalism if bicycles were left in the playground. Another school in a more affluent area found that sometimes children don’t have bicycles or helmets. To address this, it entered and won a competition to win extra equipment.

Layout of the school playground

5.18 One school - with a high proportion of children from challenging or disadvantaged backgrounds - felt that the layout of the playground would not be suitable for off-road cycle training as it is split by a large flight of stairs. The school had no road markings painted on the playground to support off-road training.

Fitting cycle training into the curriculum

5.19 One school stated that it currently had a ‘very full curriculum’ and felt that it would struggle to fit cycle training into the current timetable. However, all of the other case study schools felt that cycle training fitted well with the Health and Wellbeing experiences and outcomes within the Curriculum for Excellence. These schools either made the time for cycle training within the curriculum already, or did not see this as a potential barrier to introducing training. The schools offering off-road cycle training were generally investing roughly the same amount of time in practical and classroom based learning as the on-road schools.

5.20 Generally, responsibility for delivering on-road training fell to classroom assistants, learning assistants, school secretaries and/ or parent volunteers, supported by Road Safety Officers. Classroom teachers were generally not involved in delivering the practical element of the cycle training, although occasionally classroom teachers, deputy head teachers and head teachers provided back up support if required.

Overcoming Barriers to On-Road Cycle Training

5.21 The schools which had introduced and sustained on-road cycle training were generally very committed to the approach. Schools had overcome barriers to on-road training through using a range of mechanisms and techniques.

Reducing concerns about safety

5.22 Schools offering on-road training programmes appear to have become more confident about this approach where:

  • there is an adequate pool of volunteers – including both school staff and parents - to establish a good ratio of adults to children;
  • schools have positive relationships with their RSOs – who have been instrumental in encouraging schools to move to an on-road training programme; and/or
  • schools take a phased approach to move from the playground, to a quiet road, onto a busier road – with flexibility to progress more slowly if required.

5.23 Overall, on-road cycle training seemed to be most sustainable where the programme was supported by the head teacher, staff and parents. The leadership and support of head teachers in promoting on-road cycling was essential.

Attracting volunteer trainers

5.24 Schools offering on-road cycle programmes had used a range of approaches to encourage volunteers.

  • Dedicated staff as volunteers – Some schools identified key staff members – usually classroom assistants, learning assistants or other support staff such as the secretary – to take the role of ‘lead volunteer’. In small schools, staff could deliver the programme themselves. In larger schools, parent volunteers were also encouraged. Consistent staff involvement appears to lead to continuity of the programme, reduces responsibility placed on parent volunteers, and allows staff to build up an expertise.
  • Investing in training – Volunteers – both staff and parents – can have concerns about responsibility for taking children on-road. RSO training is highly valued, and volunteers at some schools were keen for more regular training sessions. In one school, the head teacher encouraged staff to attend a detailed on-road training course, to build up skills and confidence of two staff members to deliver on-road training.
  • Intensive support from the RSO/ community wardens – Two schools received support from either the RSO or others, such as community wardens, to deliver the on-road element of the training. In one case, this was due to staff illness with no other staff able to act as the lead volunteer. In another case, this was to initiate on-road training, allowing the school and pupils to experience the benefits of the on-road approach. Neither of these approaches appears sustainable in the long term, but it can help to encourage on-road training, or fill a gap where particular problems are experienced.

5.25 None of the schools had taken a particularly innovative approach to encouraging parent volunteers – all used letters to parents, and some had asked parent council members to volunteer. One school used issued a leaflet to parents, to encourage volunteers. All of the schools offering on-road training felt that it was often luck whether a parent was prepared to volunteer.

5.26 Some schools extended the invitation to participate as a volunteer beyond parents of the year groups participating in the cycle training. In some cases this has attracted volunteers who perform the role for a number of years, until their children leave the school. One school – currently offering no cycle training – mentioned that it may consider working jointly with community police officers and volunteers from community groups, such as the local church, with which the school had an existing relationship.

Establishing a core of volunteers

In one school a ‘core team’ had been established, involving two classroom assistants. This dedicated resource helped to ensure that the programme is sustainable and well managed. Staff can develop specialist skills, as they will be involved in on-road training over the longer term. Parents can become involved in the training without taking on too much responsibility for managing the training. There is a strong team of staff and parent volunteers who are committed to delivering the training on-road.

Find out more about this approach in Case Study 6.

School location and logistics

5.27 Schools offering on-road training programmes had taken a variety of approaches to identifying a safe location. Firstly, all of the case study schools offering ‘on-road’ training begin their training in the playground. All of the schools were flexible about when to move to the on-road element of training, and some built in an extra week or so to allow for additional off-road practice if required. Others took a phased approach, gradually moving from quiet to busy roads. This can help to build confidence of volunteers and children.

5.28 In busy locations, schools tended to use signs as well as asking children to wear fluorescent tabards so that they were easily visible. Some schools identified issues around equipment – particularly in deprived areas. At one school, pupils were asked to share bikes so that all pupils could participate.

Identifying a safe location

One school faced considerable barriers, being located on a 60mph main road. As some children already cycle to school along this road, the school was committed to training the children here. The children practice in the playground initially, and then practice in the lay-by of the road, which is near the school. Only once children have mastered the basics, they practice turning onto the main road. The school has volunteers in the lay-by and on the road, and places large signs on the road to alert drivers that the training is taking place.

Find out more about this approach in Case Study 10.

Links between classroom and practical activity

5.29 Several schools had recently introduced the I-Cycle resource as well as other classroom based activities to complement the practical training. Staff feedback indicated that making links between the two helped children to put their learning into practice and ultimately aided the success of the training.

‘What has worked well in this school is that the teacher and the trainer work really well together. The trainer can worry about all the practical aspects and the teacher can do the theory. I was surprised at how well on-road has worked in a school that had such initial reservations about it.’
(Road Safety Officer)


5.30 Schools not offering on-road training were positive about the potential on-road cycle training could offer in terms of learning opportunities for children. The biggest concern for schools relating to on-road training was being able to ensure pupil safety.

5.31 All felt that a key component of delivering safe on-road training was having an adequate number of volunteer trainers, to ensure a reasonable ratio of adults to children. Schools both with and without on-road programmes had experienced difficulties attracting and sustaining parent volunteers. On-road programmes appear to have been most sustainable where staff volunteers formed the core, with parents providing a support role.

5.32 School location, and the logistics of getting children and bikes to a safe on-road site, was a challenge for some case study schools – particularly those located near busy roads. Two schools had concerns about the volume of traffic on nearby roads, and one had concerns about wider community safety issues.

5.33 Three schools exhibited some resistance to changing their off-road programme, or simply had not considered on-road training as an option.

5.34 In some cases, there were barriers to introducing cycle training more generally – with issues around playground layout and availability of suitable bicycles. These were particular issues in schools in areas of high deprivation.

5.35 Schools offering on-road training programmes appear to have become more confident about this approach where:

  • there is an adequate pool of skilled volunteers – including both school staff and parents - to establish a good ratio of adults to children;
  • schools have positive relationships with their RSOs – who have been instrumental in encouraging schools to move to an on-road training programme; and/or
  • schools take a phased approach to move from the playground, to a quiet road, onto a busier road – with flexibility to progress more slowly if required.