School rules on cycling: Little wonder so few kids commute by bike

school rules on cycling

How much responsibility do head teachers have for our children beyond the school gates? Should they ask parents to confirm their child is in bed by a reasonable hour? After all, lack of sleep has been shown to slow educational development. Should they ask parents to confirm to the school that their child has not been fed a high-sugar breakfast? After all, diets high in sugar can lead to obesity, cancer and diabetes.

The email above was sent earlier this month by a head teacher to the parents of kids at a primary school in a quiet area of southwest London.

The school is well meaning enough, but the onerous list above is not matched by one requiring permission from the head teacher before parents drop their kids off at school by car…the very behaviour that creates road danger, air pollution and congestion in the first place.

A positive step by government would be for all schools to be issued the standardised guidance on cycling. At present, policy appears to be drawn up according to the attitudes of  teachers and governors concerned, or via the government’s own THINK! Campaign, which unfortunately provides advice on cycling that reinforces the institutionalised culture of victim blaming.

To provide further broader context, the email about the onerous rules surrounding cycling to school was preceded the month before by another warning we parents of the risk of brain tumours in our children – a condition that affects only 0.003 % of British children. With parents bombarded by messages of fear, little wonder so few children in Kingston – and across Britain – cycle to school and are free to lead the independent lives so vital to their development and wellbeing.

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  1. Jim Clark


    I’m sorry but how did I get to be reading The Daily Mail. We had rules about cycling to school in the 1950s. The bike had to be roadworthy, we had to have a cycling proficiency certificate, which the school and local police organised. We had to carry a cycle spanner and puncture outfit and know how to use them, our cycle shed held well over 10 cycles, nobody locked their bikes as theft wasn’t a problem nor were helmets worn.
    I think I recall to get you cycling badge in the scouts you had to adjust brakes, mend a puncture etc.
    As boys we did lots of our own maintenance, replacing ball bearings the trick was seat them in fat or Vaseline to hold them in place, adjusting and replacing spokes, fitting new chains and links and the thing I hated most, fitting new cotter pins, old ones would never come out, you should be happy that they are a thing of the past

    • The ETA


      Given the Daily Mail is one of the most vociferously anti-cyclist publications we’ve come across, we don’t imagine for one moment they would object to the list of rules as we do – rather they would berate it for not being the list you refer to.

  2. Tony Williams


    It’s another version of a question asked a very long time ago and recorded in the Book of Genesis: Am I my brother’s keeper?
    The answer is Yes. But there are varying degrees.
    I think a primary school is right to be concerned about the safety of pupils cycling to school. Whether absolutely all the requirements set out by this particular school are necessary is another question. The list is not onerous, as ETA alleges, and I doubt that any area of London is “quiet”. Some are undoubtedly quieter than the Old Kent Road, for example, but to imply that it isn’t necessary for this school to set out some requirements for children aged 10 or 11 cycling to school – which is when the roads are likely to be at their busiest – seems almost irresponsible.
    I think it would be going too far for a school to ask parents to confirm that their child has been to bed at a reasonable time, or has not had a high-sugar breakfast, but I think it is entirely reasonable to draw parents’ attention to the importance of not staying up very late and of not consuming too much sugar. I don’t know why the school thought it necessary to warn parents about the risk of brain tumours, but that does sound to have been superfluous advice.
    Parents dropping off children from a car is so completely different from children cycling to school that only a person with an irrational fixation about “the institutionalised culture of victim blaming” would try to link the two things.
    Sometimes it’s difficult to take ETA seriously.

    • The ETA


      Tony, if you are struggling to take us seriously, perhaps take a look at the guidance to schools issued by Cycling UK and you’ll see that it’s at odds with the rules formulated by this school. Furthermore, the work done by actively pro-cycling schools is a world away from the example cited by the article. We’d prefer to head to issue similarly onerous requirements to drivers. For example, to drive kids to school, please:
      • show licence/insurance at school office
      • fit speed limiter
      • fit fume guard
      • get permission from head

  3. Anna Shakoor-Green


    In response to Tony Williams: Primary schools who are concerned about children cycling to school can ensure that they work with local authorities to deliver Bikeability training. This is a far more appropriate response.

  4. eddie white


    If you take T Williams’s thinking one step on, it would ok for your employer to say how you should get to work. I do not think many would be happy with that, his whole idea is a nanny state one.
    In school the children the schools responsibility , out of school the parent is responsible, end of story.
    I do wonder though how many children go to this school,? a 200+ maybe.but only 10 at most will be able to cycle there

  5. Tony Williams


    Taking up Anna’s comment, it appears from the letter reproduced by ETA that this school is already involved in Bikeability training.

    Eddie: yes, it does seem that only 10 bikes can be stored on site, and perhaps the school’s letter is really saying that if parents want their child’s cycle to be stored there then these are the conditions which must be met. Therefore there is nothing, apparently, to prevent a child cycling to school if they have somewhere else to store the bike during the day – with a family friend who lives nearby, for example.

    In that case your interesting comparison with an employer telling me how I should get to work would lose some of its validity. But an employer could reasonably tell me I shouldn’t come to work by car, if I expected to leave my car on the employer’s property during the day, and there wasn’t room for every employee to do that. (It never actually happened to me while I was working.)

    ETA: I think it was clear that the sort of thing that can make it hard to take you seriously is your attempt to link this school letter to an “institutionalised culture of victim blaming”, and to compare it to your fantasy of similar proposals about driving children to school. Or your linking of children cycling to school with being “free to lead the independent lives so vital to their development and wellbeing”. My daughter didn’t cycle to school, and grand daughters don’t either, but cycling is only one aspect of growing up able to take responsibility. You really need to be able to engage with facts, and not imagine that you’ll make a convincing argument by inventing parodies.

    • The ETA


      Tony, when you suggest we engage with the facts are you referring to the case of the judge in the case of Churchill Insurance vs Bethany Probert, who apportioned blame to a child who was left brain damaged for life after a speeding car left the road and struck her while she walked on the grass verge? The judge said she should have been wearing high-vis. We think this is a pretty sound example of institutionalised victim blaming. If you find the arguments we are making objectionable, please be aware that they reflect the principles on which we are formed and are likely to repeated frequently.

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