On yer bicycles, mates

16th January 2009 at 00:00
It is not only pupils who are embracing the cycle or walk to school ethos: parents have been persuaded to leave their car at home

Friday midday and the playground of Rosewell Primary is a blur of colour, spokes and helmets.

Bicycles are a familiar sight at the Midlothian school, which serves the former mining village together with some modern developments. Nearly three-quarters of pupils - 38 of the 52 children - cycle or walk to the school, which is one of two primaries in the village, the other a Catholic school just along the road.

An eco-school since March 2007, Rosewell is the first in Scotland to receive a Cycle Friendly School award, last term, after increasing its percentage of pupils who cycle or walk by almost a fifth in one year, from 54 to 73 per cent. Headteacher Karen Souter says the achievement is the result of years of work across many areas, spanning behaviour, health, citizenship and responsibility. Rosewell was the second school in Midlothian to be awarded the Eco-Schools green flag in June 2007.

"To get that, we had done an awful lot of work over the last few years on living a healthy lifestyle, fitness, diet, looking after the environment, saving energy, caring for plants and gardening grounds, growing organic fruit and vegetables, even dental health," she explains. "A lot of the work was done through general health promotion and the whole school looking at issues like global warming and our carbon footprint."

The school has been busy working towards its second green flag. "We've got to sustain what we've done and do more - recycling, composting, recycling mobile phones, bringing in old batteries instead of throwing them out, tackling litter."

All this, she says, has contributed to a culture change and helped to raise awareness among pupils - and parents - of the health, environmental and social benefits of walking and cycling, alongside other things.

However, it is one thing persuading children to don their helmets and cycle to school, but quite another to convince busy parents, rushing around dropping off their little ones before braving rush-hour traffic. Mrs Souter says the tight-knit community made it easy to win parents' backing. P1-2 teacher Gudrid Low, the Eco-School health co-ordinator, worked with the school's Eco-School committee and travel plan co-ordinator for Midlothian Council, who helped with provision of bike racks, helmets and armbands.

"We had the parent council involved and our parents have been very supportive," she says. "Most of the children live a short distance away but a few come from further afield. Sometimes, some of those parents bring them so far in the car and let them cycle the last part of the way so they can participate, and some of the wee ones use scooters."

The cycling and walking push has even left a tyre mark on drama and enterprise, since the P5-7 children wrote and performed a play when they were presented with their Cycle Friendly award, which aims to encourage cycling as part of the whole school culture. "The children did an assembly on it," says Mrs Souter. "They did a PowerPoint presentation and organised the event themselves."

The final half-hour of school on a Friday is dedicated to keeping fit. A policewoman-turned-learning assistant, Laura Wilson, runs a cycle club in the playground, training the children, while anyone averse to bikes can do dance or some other activity.

"We listen to the pupils," says Mrs Souter. "Some want to start jogging."

She has also noticed a change for the better in dietary habits. "The children and parents are very good at bringing healthy snacks. We're not seeing crisps and sweeties; most children bring fruit now."

There is also the not-to-be-underestimated power of pressure from children on parents. One or two parents who previously drove their children to school from just around the corner have surrendered to requests to leave the car keys at home and become converts to the walking and cycling lobby. "I think the children have got the message," smiles Mrs Souter.

And while the school may struggle to maintain such a high percentage of pupils braving the snow on bikes, pulling on wellies instead of helmets would be the automatic fall-back.


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