Learning to ride a bicycle can be a developmental milestone for some children, offering them a way to gain independence and freedom. There are many appeals of cycling – bicycles “use no fossil energy, deliver important health benefits … and provide an affordable and seamless door-to-door mobility service”. However, cyclists are also vulnerable road users. In the UK, the risk of someone who cycles being killed or seriously injured is reported to be highest for young cyclists aged 10-15 years.
So how can we balance giving children the key to independence whilst ensuring that they can identify and appropriately respond to the on-road hazards they may face?
Finding the balance
Bikeability was launched in 2007 as the ‘cycling proficiency’ for the 21st century. It is designed to give the next generation the skills and confidence to ride their bikes on today’s roads. There are three Bikeability levels, with each level designed to help improve their cycling skills, no matter what they know already. Level 2 training is usually provided to primary-aged children, in years 5 or 6. It takes place on local roads, providing children with opportunities to deal with traffic on short journeys such as they might face cycling to school.
But how effective is Bikeability?
NFER investigated the hypothesis that Bikeability training improves a child’s ability to perceive and appropriately respond to on-road hazards faced by people who cycle. It also sought to establish whether or not Bikeability increases on-road cycling confidence.
We developed some on-screen quizzes to examine the impact of the Bikeability Level 2 training on children’s ability to perceive and appropriately respond to on-road hazards. The research involved two groups of primary school children, one of which received the training and one which didn’t. The research began in the summer term with children in year 5 and tracked them as they moved into year 6 the following term. Both groups took the first on-screen quiz, before any training took place, to gather baseline data. This established that all the children involved in the project had a similar level of ability in terms of being able to perceive on-road hazards and determine what they might do to respond to these hazards. One group of children then received Level 2 Bikeability training and then both groups took the second quiz. After the summer holidays, when in year 6, both groups of children then took a third quiz. Data collected from each of these quizzes was then analysed to look for differences in performance between each of the three time points.
Increasing hazard perception
The key findings of the research showed that:
– Children who participated in Bikeability Level 2 training scored significantly higher on the quiz assessing hazard perception and the ability to respond to hazards appropriately, after training, than children who had not received training.
– The effect of the Bikeability Level 2 training was undiminished when children re-took the quiz more than two months after training, suggesting that the effect of the training was sustained.
– The size of the association between training and hazard perception, as demonstrated by the score achieved on the quiz, was very large, with an effect size of 1.6.
- Effect size is a way of quantifying the size of the difference between two groups which can be applied to any measured outcome in education or social science. Effect sizes for educational interventions – e.g. a new way of teaching reading or maths – are usually relatively low, at around 0.2 at best, because the underlying level of knowledge is quite high. However, for areas of learning where existing knowledge among school children is relatively low, effect sizes can be bigger – and this was the case with this research.
In addition to measuring the effects of the training on pupils’ hazard perception and ability to respond to hazards, NFER also monitored changes in pupils’ attitudes towards cycling. Children who had taken part in the Bikeability training also reported increased confidence when cycling on the road compared with their initial level of confidence.
Where to next?
Children in the trained group demonstrated that they had better hazard perception and ability to respond to hazards than their untrained peers. They were also more confident about their abilities. So, the key to cycling independence is tantalisingly close! Now we just need to ensure that these children are encouraged to test out their new found skills and confidence and are given access to the literal key to the bike shed so that they can unlock their cycling potential.
 OECD/International Transport Forum (2013). Cycling, Health and Safety. Paris: OECD Publishing.
 It is worth noting that whilst 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.