Research into the impact of the funded Bikeability scheme

Written by: Claire Hodgson | Published:
Photo: Licensed by Ingram Image

The government-funded Bikeability scheme trains children to be confident and safe cyclists and has so far reached 1.5 million young people. Claire Hodgson looks at how the initiative engages with schools and reports on research into its impact

How many of your pupils cycle to school, pedal to the park or go on cycle rides with their family? How confident are these children about riding on the road – and how confident are you in their cycling abilities?

Data gathered from a sample of more than 500 year 5 children in England showed that 92 per cent of them had their own bicycle, or had access to one. Nearly half of the children reported that they cycle with their families while just under a quarter cycle with their friends. About a fifth of children reported that they go cycling on their own.

When asked about how they are most likely to travel to other activities or places nearby, nearly a quarter of children indicated that they would cycle to the local park or play area, while just under a fifth reported cycling when going out to play with their friends. Despite three-quarters of the children living 10 minutes or less from their school, fewer than 10 per cent of children reported that they cycled to school.

Why cycle?

Learning to ride a bicycle can be a developmental milestone for some children because it can offer a route to independence. Regular cycling can help to improve physical and mental fitness while bicycles offer an affordable, "green" mode of transport.

But, despite the advantages of cycling there is no denying the potential, associated safety issues – the risk of someone who cycles being killed or seriously injured is reported to be highest for young cyclists aged 10 to 15 years. So, what can we do to help children be more competent and confident cyclists?

Bikeability is a government-funded training scheme described as "cycling proficiency for the 21st century". The training is practical, skill-based and designed to "boost the confidence of the trainee and to minimise risk".

There are three levels of training and children typically start Bikeability lessons once they have learnt to ride a bike. Level 2 training is generally provided to children in year 5 or 6. The policy purpose of Bikeability is to give children the skills and confidence needed to cycle on today's roads and so encourage more people to cycle more often with less risk. Hundreds of thousands of young cyclists have already received Bikeability training and it is estimated that more than 1.5 million had been trained by March 2015.

But how effective is Bikeability?

The NFER recently carried out some research to investigate the impact of Bikeability training on children's ability to perceive and appropriately respond to on-road hazards faced by people who cycle. The research also sought to establish whether or not Bikeability increases on-road cycling confidence.

What did the research involve?

The research involved pupils who were in year 5 in summer 2014 and tracked them as they moved into year 6 in the autumn term. A total of 668 pupils were involved in taking one or more on-screen quizzes and a questionnaire to find out about their attitudes towards cycling.

Participating schools and their pupils were either in the intervention or comparison group. Schools in the intervention group had pupils who participated in Bikeability training during the summer term (trained pupils). Pupils in the comparison schools did not receive any training in the summer term, although they were expected to be given training while in year 6.

What did the assessments involve?

The NFER developed an on-screen quiz to measure pupils' hazard perception and appropriate response ability. In order to engage respondents, the quiz told the story of three children's cycling journeys.

As it was presented on-screen, the quiz included photographs and film clips showing different aspects of the children's journeys, for example choosing where and when to start their ride, considering road position and priorities for different manoeuvres, and completing the journey. Children completed the quizzes on PCs or laptops, taking about 30 minutes to answer a series of closed response questions.

The results of the quiz were converted into a single measure of each child's ability to perceive and appropriately respond to hazards. Differences in these scores over time and comparing the two groups of children could be analysed to assess the impact of the training.

When did the assessments take place?

The research took place over three phases:

  • Phase 1: background information about the pupils' cycling experience and confidence was gathered and an initial on-screen quiz assessment was carried out early in the summer term before any training took place.
  • Phase 2: on-screen quiz assessment information was gathered one to three weeks after the training took place (in the summer term).
  • Phase 3: on-screen quiz assessment information was gathered at least two months after the training took place (in the autumn term). Children also completed the questionnaire to indicate their cycling experience and confidence.

So, does Bikeability work?

Essentially, yes. The research revealed some interesting findings relating to the two groups of children involved:

  • Children who participated in Bikeability Level 2 training scored significantly higher on the quiz than the children who had not received training. Interestingly, this effect was undiminished even when the children re-took the quiz more than two months later.
  • Children who received training reported that they felt more confident when cycling on the road after training. This increase was statistically significant.

It is worth noting that while children may score highly on the on-screen quiz, demonstrating that they can perceive hazards and know how to appropriately respond to hazards, this does not necessarily mean that they would be able to apply the skills in a real life, on-road situation.

However, this does not detract from the finding that children do appear to respond positively to the training and that it increases their understanding and identification of hazards and equips them with the knowledge of how best to respond to a range of on-road situations.

What next?

The policy purpose of Bikeability is to give children the skills and confidence needed to cycle on today's roads and so encourage more people to cycle more often with less risk. While the research has shown that Bikeability does help children to develop skills and confidence, this does not necessarily translate into an increase in cycling.

Why is this? It could be that the opportunities for children to practise their new-found skills are limited. Perhaps adults lack the confidence to allow children out on their bikes. Encouragement to get out and about on two wheels could help to further develop and promote the learning and confidence – and allow children to demonstrate what they can do. 

  • Claire Hodgson is a research director in the NFER's Centre for Assessment.

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