A cycling proficiency initiative is combining health and fitness with road safety, writes Raymond Ross
Sciennes Primary in Edinburgh gives cycling the hard sell. It even sells second-hand bikes. For the past six years, the school has been promoting cycling as part of the curriculum, with P6 pupils training in the daytime - out in the playground and out on public roads. Pupils are encouraged to cycle to school, and in summer more than 100 of the 640 pupils cycle in.
Training is offered by paid trainers and volunteers, who are initially trained by the experts. Situated in a compact catchment area on the city's south side, in an area dominated by the middle-class and students, many parents at Sciennes are regular cyclists.
"It's probably easier for us than for some schools," says depute head Morag Crolla, the school's cycling co-ordinator. "Volunteer parents are trained by the police road safety officer and we try to pair more experienced parents with the new volunteers."
Training is done in small groups, beginning with skills such as leaving the kerb-side, looking over the shoulder, and left and right turns.
The on-road training takes place in the leafy Grange area of the southside, which has wide roads but is on a bus route.
"The pupils respond to this very positively after the playground training because it's real," says head Lindsey Robertson. "It's about getting children out there with real buses and cars going by. Playground training alone isn't enough."
Pupils wear fluorescent tabards for on-road training, and special alert signs are erected on the street where it takes place.
The "no helmet, no cycle" rule is strictly adhered to as the school has its own supply of them - and of bikes, so pupils can borrow one to train and to take home for extra practice.
The school also holds regular second-hand bike sales in which it takes 20 per cent of the sale price. Being in a university area helps as students often want to sell bikes before they move on.
In P5, pupils have lessons in bike safety and maintenance with help from the police and local bike shops (there are four within walking distance of the school gates). The police check all bikes before training and pupils are given diagrams that show the faults that must be fixed before training starts. At the end of the training, pupils receive certificates and a metal badge from the police road safety unit.
"Completion of training doesn't mean your child is super-confident and super-secure," says Ms Crolla. "But it should mean they are confident and more secure."
At the end of the training, the school gives each pupil a folder of cycling materials, including maps of the city's safe routes.
The promotion of cycling is linked to the school's road safety training, which begins in P2 with Kerbcraft. It also fits the ethos of a school that champions safe routes and encourages pupils to walk on outings such as the annual panto (four miles) or the Edinburgh Book Festival (six miles).
Ms Robertson says: "There is huge community and police support for our walking and cycling projects. And it means that when we visit outdoor centres, our pupils are really geared up for the more adventurous mountain biking activities."