Case study: bike sheds in Grantham

16th May 2003 at 01:00
About 30 per cent of the 639 11 to 16-year-old students at Grantham's Central technology college cycle regularly, helping ease the pressure of the school run while keeping themselves fit. Why so many? Victoria Cook, a Year 7 student, says it is "easier and faster; it avoids sitting in traffic queues". Frank Brown, also in Year 7, agrees. "It's healthier," he says.

When I ask them how to encourage more of their friends to cycle, Liane Armstead and Gemma Foster, also Year 7, say: "tell them about the health benefits and about avoiding the traffic" and "encourage our friends to cycle with us".

When I started teaching at the college, the bicycle sheds were racks with open access so I worked with the school council to get security fencing erected. This was completed in 1997 and the gates are now locked at the start of the college day, staying locked throughout the day apart from five minutes at the start and end of lunchtime for students going home. The college has two entrances: a main one for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians and a rear one for cyclists and pedestrians only. This rear entrance connects to the "back track", which leads to two new housing estates, home to many of our students. It also provides the closest and safest link from the town centre. For years it was a dirt track which became muddy in wet weather. Parents discouraged their children from using it and I became concerned about their safety, and the state they arrived in.

There was, however, a major stumbling block to any improvement: part of the land was owned by Railtrack, who were reluctant to sell to the local council or to make any improvements. Eventually the council suggested the college surrender a three-metre strip of land from the edge of the playing field in return for improved access. The governors agreed. It helped that the college had a large playing field so could lose the land without having a negative effect on sport. The new boundary fence was put up in 2001, a security gate installed and a rolled stone surface put down. This, for the first time, provided clean, safe rear access to the college grounds.

Year 10 pupil Tom Davey says it's been a great improvement as he used to cycle the long way round to the front gate to avoid getting dirty. Jonathan Lees agrees. "You couldn't actually cycle along it at times because the mud was too deep." Other initiatives include working with the local police to security-mark bicycles. We will probably repeat the exercise with next year's new intake.

Our attempts to encourage students to wear cycle helmets have been less successful. I've tried a variety of tactics, such as talking to the new intake in Year 6 at primary school, writing to parents and even taking a badly damaged helmet into assembly to show students after a Year 7 boy was knocked off his bike; his helmet had saved him from severe head injuries.

Students who do wear helmets say the main impetus is pressure from parents.

But Brian Giddens, in Year 10, says he doesn't wear one because it's "uncool".

The next development is to replace the bicycle sheds as they will soon be demolished to make way for our new sports hall. We are bidding for funding as we want to continue to encourage students to cycle and to be physically active. Students have told me that when we do replace the sheds, we need to provide more spaces and to make the racks wider as today's fatter tyres don't fit in easily.

Diane Hale

Diane Hale teaches at the Central technology college, Grantham. She is also a teacher governor at the college

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