Saturday, 5 July 2014

Time to refine school cycle training?

Floating an idea here that I've been mulling over the past week as I've been teaching year 7s for a change (albeit ones with Autism Spectrum Disorder)

I teach a lot of Bikeability, what used to be called Cycle Proficiency, level 2 in schools. The first session is in the playground, checking pupils' bikes are in okay condition and a reasonable fit, that the pupils can cycle competently, and that they will follow instruction when taken out to the roads.

The following few days are on local roads, progressively developing until the pupils are turning right from a major road, wide enough to require moving across their lane and with some traffic, into a minor road. Children are trained and assessed for competency, consistency and confidence in undertaking the maneouvres.

This is almost always done in primary school, ideally in year 6 before the pupils leave for secondary school. In practice Year 6 is SATs year, so many schools are reluctant to take a chunk of time out for this. In consequence there is a mad demand for courses between the end of SATs and the end of the summer of the summer term.

The alternative that many schools like is to run the course in year 5. At this age most children struggle to achieve consistency, competence and confidence. Their ability to judge speed and distance is fairly weak and they often have a delightful sense of playfulness at odds with mixing competently with traffic. This quite often continues into year 6. I get the sense that neither parents nor the schools expect the primary pupils to cycle on-road to their school

So, it seems to me that year 7 is the logical time to do on-road cycle training. Old enough to judge speed and distance reasonably, at a school that is likely to be further from home than the primary school, more likely to be travelling independently, and without any exams that year. Year 5 or 6 in primary school should focus on off-road cycle control skills.

Being older the pupils should pick up the basics of on-road riding to level 2 standard quickly, and additionally can be taught about roundabouts, traffic lights and lorries. A route to school could be rehearsed with the pupils. There can also be buddy systems arranged with older pupils and a range of other measures, such as cycling as a class on outings.

There could then be a refresher and consolidation of the skills at the end of year 12 after pupils, aged 16 or 17, have taken their AS levels and before summer term ends when schools struggle to find useful activities for the pupils to do. This would serve two purposes, firstly to remind them of the ease of moving around their local area by bicycle, and secondly, to brush up their on-road skills which would be of benefit to those aiming to acquire a motor-cycle or driving licence.

What do you think? I'm particularly interested in the views of secondary school teachers and pupils, and also the views of other cycling instructors.


Slug said...

Why not do level 3 with them when they get to secondary school age?

Charlie Holland said...

Pupils can do level 3 but it tends not to be built into the school curriculum, meaning most pupils don't get it. I agree with doing level 3, hence bit about traffic lights etc in my post, but I think much of level 3 should be added onto level 2 and taught when pupils are in year 7.

Anonymous said...

I broadly agree. Only the most mature Year 5s benefit from the on road training, and often those children are already riding with their parents. You'll also have noticed that there is a marked difference between the maturity of Year 5s at the beginning of the school year and the end. In Hackney I tend to teach mostly Year 5 students, although occasionally we get Year 6s and the results are much better. As you say, a lot of schools aren't willing to let Year 6s take a lot of time out of curriculum activities.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have taught the same children in Year 5 and again in Year 6, and as I'm sure you know those children are often far more capable, having done the training before. I'm not sure what that says about the coverage of the training we provide, but I don't think repeating the course is a bad thing, especially since time on the road is often quite limited, more so if you have a large group. In one instance I have even seen one child three times, up to Year 7, and it's often a heartening tale I tell to other instructors, as this particular girl was a below average cyclists in year 5, but by year 7 was as confident as many adults I know, and with good reason! She was clamouring to learn level 3, but was effectively held back by the level of the others in the group.

One argument you often hear in favour of teaching on road at a young age is that cycling is still perceived as a cool thing to do. I think this is important, and perhaps more important still to try and teach that bikes are not simply a niche form of entertainment (I fear a lot of the enjoyment is derived from the novelty value of cycling for a lot of children, as you have alluded) but a viable form of transport. I would agree that the off-road sills would be a good place to start in primary schools, perhaps complemented by a long ride outside of school to somewhere the kids might enjoy.

In my limited experience of secondary school teaching, I've also found that time allowed for cycling is often shoehorned in to PE or other lessons, and as such time is scarce. Until cycling has its own place in the curriculum I don't see that changing. Which is sad.

Peter Wilson said...

Your arguments are sound and you should also include the failure to appreciate cause and effect in some year 5 pupils. That said the secondary school syllabus is more rigid and less likely to be collapsable to accommodate training during school time. It would be perfect if we could do a level 2 in year 5 or 6 over a period of 5 or 6 weeks to let the pupil practice and let the skills bed in. We did this in Hammersmith in the 80s but had issues where pupils forgot bikes on their day for lessons and the Friday afternoon slot was a disciplinary battle. We reluctantly reverted to a lesson a day for a week to meet the needs of the school but not necessarily the pupil.

Charlie Holland said...

Many thanks Peter for your reply.