By Kath Cochrane

A recent survey by Halfords found that half of parents thought that cycle training should be part of the national curriculum.

It’s easy to see why. Cycling is at least as important a life skill as swimming, which all children learn in primary School, so it should be granted equal status. And with good cycle training from an early age, more children would use their bicycles more often and more safely. Including cycling in the national curriculum would also act as a leveller.

According to a research paper (Goodman et al, Journal of Transport and Health, 2012) Bikeability uptake is slightly higher amongst schools in more affluent areas, and within these schools, uptake is higher amongst children who are white, affluent or sporty.

This paper resonated with me because, in my work as a cycling instructor, I visit many schools and work with hundreds of children each year. Most schools in Oxfordshire are motivated to participate in Bikeability, when they have the opportunity, and so are pupils.

The stark difference is in the bikes children have, and the roads they travel on. In less affluent areas more children don’t have bikes, and if they do, their bikes are often not safe or comfortable to ride. ’ve seen bikes with only one brake, or even no brakes, and gears that don’t work – all of which makes life especially difficult on a level 3 course.

The very children who might have to travel independently from a younger age are less well equipped, and less likely to do the training that will help them.

My other observation is the difference in the roads that these children would have to negotiate by bike. Take Witney for example – the two residential areas around Cogges and Madley Park are quiet, have few rat runs and boast ample shared use paths that, in one case, connect right into the town centre.

Unsurprisingly house prices are higher, families are more affluent, children are more likely to own bikes and ride them – and uptake of Bikeability is high. Across town you have the opposite; residential areas hemmed in by arterial roads without any segregated routes that would enable people to access education, employment, shops and services.

People who would really benefit from a cheap form of transport, often have less money to buy and maintain a bike, or space to store it and also fear having to mix with traffic on busy roads. Uptake of Bikeability in these areas is, in our experience, lower.

Luckily there are things we can do. Bikeability Recycled gives bikes to children who don’t have one. So far in West Oxfordshire we have given away 14 bikes.

Bikeability schemes are encouraged to get into schools and engage with teachers and students to identify and find solutions to the barriers of participating in Bikeability. If cycle training were part of the national curriculum more focus and resources would be bought to bear on ensuring that all children could achieve this vital life skill.