Pedal power: why cycling to school is good for learning and the planet

Powered by article titled “Pedal power: why cycling to school is good for learning and the planet” was written by Matthew Jenkin, for on Thursday 28th August 2014 16.04 UTC

Every time a child is driven to primary school and back their car releases about 84 balloons worth of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the charity Sustrans, which promotes sustainable transport in the UK. That’s a lot of hot air. The amount of damaging greenhouse gasses produced on the daily school run could be reduced dramatically, however, if parents left their cars at home and students simply walked, cycled or scooted in.

Schools across the UK are starting bike- or walk-to-school schemes to not only do their bit for the environment but also to teach the curriculum in a fun, active way.

Winton Primary School in Bournemouth started a cycle to school scheme to combat traffic on nearby streets following a surge in pupil population after the school decided to go from two to four classes per year group. After a small child was hit by a car last year, headteacher Neil Tarchetti decided it was time to take action.

As well as holding competitions to incentivise students, with prizes for children who brought their bikes to school every day of the week, the school worked with Bournemouth borough council to set up designated park and walk areas.

It’s helping to ease traffic in the area, claims Tarchetti, but most importantly it also keeps children fit and helps them learn more about why we need to protect the health of our planet.

“Cycling and walking to school has become part of our efforts to build children’s awareness of environmental issues,” the headteacher explains. “Many students didn’t previously know what to do to lower their carbon footprint so we are bringing that into the curriculum more and developing their understanding.”

Tarchetti explains how pedal power has been applied to a variety of subjects from PE to science and geography. Lessons on green issues should not just be a bolt-on to regular classroom time, he adds.

“Initially pupils are just interested in enjoying a ride on their bike. However, we wanted to develop it beyond that and help these young people understand why cycling to school would be a good thing to do for the environment. A year ago, they didn’t have any awareness, but now it is part of the curriculum. Hopefully we are improving things.”

The good news is, most young people need little encouragement to hop on a bike and cycle to school – it’s a fun activity where they get to spend time with their family and friends. Gary Shipp, Sustrans national projects co-ordinator for education and young people claims it’s the minority of students who want to be driven to school. Teachers must win the hearts and minds of parents, he says, adding that it is vital to involve parents in any project right from the start.

As well as hosting breakfast and after school meetings for parents to learn more about why cycling or walking to school is important, Winton Primary encouraged staff on duty at the beginning and end of the day to talk to parents about any issues or concerns they may have. Having staff visible to parents makes a big difference in getting the message across, Tarchetti explains.

For David Bayne, it’s key that staff lead by example. The RE teacher at St Robert of Newminster Catholic School in Washington, Sunderland, hopes the passion for pedalling which he and other teachers share will prove infectious when they launch a new bike club in September. If students can see teachers enjoying cycling, he says, then pupils will feel encouraged to do the same.

Bayne started the project after seeing the plentiful bike racks at school underutilised. He felt sad that the incredible national cycling route which runs through the area was being overlooked by many of his students. The Tour de France passed through Yorkshire this summer, and Bayne says that running and cycling competitions between form groups could encourage students to get on their bikes.

Bayne feels the cycling club will be an engaging way of teaching the students how to lead a greener life, not only now but also in the future.

“There is a moral imperative to look after the environment,” he says. “If we can encourage the students to not only take an interest in the planet but also to be active in concerns or causes at school age then that is something that will continue for the rest of their lives.

“When they cycle I’m sure they are not thinking about environmental issues first and foremost, but if you get it on the back of enjoyment, it’s like a double whammy of benefits – getting them healthy and also being more green. It’s important for us as teachers to cultivate that.”

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