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Hard to crack – the challenges of the sustainable secondary school run

London Cycling Campaign | 2nd July 2020

Back in 2018, one London secondary school hit the headlines around cycling. They were demanding that kids could only cycle to their school if they had a licence plate. Not only was this tarnishing all the kids that cycled to school with the same ‘anti-social’ brush, but it sent a clear message to anyone thinking of starting to cycle to school  that cycling’s a problem, and not something to be encouraged.

Unfortunately, this is too often the story when it comes to secondary schools. Primary schools are leaping forward with schemes to encourage walking, cycling and scooting, with ‘School Streets’ proving highly popular and successful. During school drop off and pick up times, the school road is temporarily closed, discouraging driving, pavement parking and idling, and clearing the way for kids and parents to arrive/depart safely at school on foot or on two wheels. The numbers have bloomed in London, with parents, school staff and local councils working together to make the school gate a cleaner, healthier place.

The same cannot be said for secondary schools. Cycling rates drop off during the teenage years, and the majority of kids aged 11 – 16 aren’t getting the levels of physical activity they need to stay healthy, especially girls. There are a huge number of barriers to teenage kids cycling, from access to bikes to social and peer pressures. But there don’t seem to be many secondary schools keen to tackle this issue, going so far as to add to the burden by demonizing cycling and fighting against cycling infrastructure. The light bulb moment – connecting the improved health of the kids, the lowering of lethal levels of air pollution and responding to the climate emergency that primary schools have had, just hasn’t yet happened at the secondary level.

Covid and the loss of the free bus pass

The Covid-19 crisis has added another dimension to the secondary school run. Come September, schools are expected to be accepting 100% of pupils again. But with social distancing in place for the foreseeable, capacity on the public transport network will be reduced. Buses in particular would be swamped, with 1.5m journeys on London buses on a normal weekday made by school children. Even if social distancing rules are relaxed to 1m then bus capacity and teenage kids will not mix well for the foreseeable future.

On top of that, one of the conditions attached to the Governments bailout of TfL earlier this year was to scrap free travel for under-18s. There are likely to be a number of kids now who can’t afford to take the bus to school – even if there was capacity for them to do so. This will cause further hardship for already disadvantaged communities, especially BAME ones.

This isn’t an impossible task. In the Netherlands, 75% of teenagers cycle to school – girls and boys. But it will mean we need a radical re-think of the secondary school run, and everyone will have a part to play.


Need to:

  1. Provide priority cycle corridors on main roads towards secondary schools. After all, many secondaries are on main roads and many children will be having to travel far enough they’ll need direct main road routes.
  2. Provide funding for bike training to all secondary school pupils who want it
  3. Invest in Low Traffic Neighbourhoods surrounding schools to make it easier and more comfortable to walk and cycle
  4. Arrange access to bikes for children from lower income households with ‘try before you buy’ schemes or dockless hire programmes

Secondary Schools

They need to:

  1. Start providing secure places to store bikes
  2. Training and advice for all kids wanting to start cycling, so they feel safe and comfortable cycling on the road.  
  3. Partner with LCC to understand how they can support their staff and students to cycle safely to school.
  4. Advocate actively for and support safe cycling routes to school, working with local LCC groups to ensure that their schools is a key destination in the local cycling network.

The Mayor

Historically, the focus on segregated cycle corridors has been on commuter trips, but with work patterns changing, and the urgent need to get kids to school, schools need to become key destination points in the cycle network. In the short term, the Mayor needs to repurpose the bus network into safe school corridors. These are key corridors that kids will still need to use to get to school, but they will need to do so safely on bikes. That means:

  1. Motorbikes and taxis should not have access to the bus lane at peak school start and end times.
  2. Fix key junctions around schools need to be improved for walking and cycling – particularly in outer London.

Longer term, we need to see schools better planned into the emerging cycle network.

We disscussed this and many more of the issues around the secondary school run in our webinar on the 3rd July. To read the write up and watch the recording, head here: https://lcc.org.uk/articles/webinar-round-up-sustainable-school-run