Every week during term time the Headteacher at Stanley Park High School publishes an informative Weekly Bulletin. Monday, 17 September 2018, the start of the new academic year, was no different. Except this time, the bulletin possibly received considerably more attention than is typically the case. In an item entitled ‘Cycling To And From School’, Mr. Amin wrote:
“Last week we asked parents to encourage their child to cycle. However, we are aware that across the borough, there are some children who are cycling in a way that endangers themselves and others.
We have decided to introduce a cycle registration scheme, and students who cycle to school will soon be issued with a bicycle number plate which must be displayed when riding to and from school. This will help us to identify students who are putting themselves at risk. Students without a number plate will not be permitted to cycle to school, or lock their bicycles on school grounds.
A letter will be issued to parents and carers with further details this week, which must be signed and returned to school before the plates are issued. This is seen as a measure to ensure the safety of our students who cycle, and a way of tackling the concerns drawn to our attention by recent reports”.
In the bulletin a week later, on 24 September, an update was posted, entitled ‘New Initiative to Encourage Safer Cycling‘.
“Our Safer Cycling Scheme starts with cycle registration, which will be implemented next week. From Monday 1st October, all students who cycle to school will be required to display a school-issued bicycle number plate when riding to and from school.
The aim of the scheme is to promote cycling as healthy, fun and a means of transport. Safety issues will be central to our scheme, including visibility, road awareness and bike maintenance. Workshops will be offered to students, and subsidised equipment such as cycle lights will be made available.
We were informed last week that one of our students was involved in a collision between their bicycle and a car, fortunately one which did not involve injury – but this has been a timely reminder that action is necessary.
We fully support cycling to school, which is a sustainable means of transport and provides great exercise. Promoting cycling and the benefits it brings is part of the school’s travel plan, and we encourage all our students to consider it.
Our Safer Cycling scheme was featured in yesterday’s Sunday Times, as part of a larger piece on extending the network of safe cycling routes. Encouraging the take up of cycling at a young age is important, so we would thank the many parents who have supported our scheme – we share your commitment to safe cycling and we welcome your suggestions and offers to develop our scheme further”.
A week later, on 1 October, a final item, again entitled ‘New Initiative to Encourage Safer Cycling‘, was posted:
“The debate about safe and responsible behaviour outside school was aired on a national platform all last week. I would like to thank the many who have contacted the school expressing support for our initiative, which has focused from start to finish on the safety of our students
I am happy to provide reassurance on some of the most frequently raised issues:
- The number plates are free of charge. The scheme actually aims to provide subsidised cycle equipment – lights, bells etc. and perhaps helmets which will help our students to be visible and safe.
- Registering our students who cycle is a way of identifying them as a group, so that information can be given to them simply and easily.
- The success of our scheme will be monitored and the scheme adapted if it is necessary.
Finally, we are encouraging responsible, accountable behaviour in our young people. We appreciate all the comments which have been received, and we are always open to constructive suggestions. We are very happy to liaise with any organisation who wishes to help support and develop our cycling initiatives. We are very keen to promote cycling to school to all our students as a fun, healthy and environmentally friendly way to travel to and from school”.
There was , indeed, considerable media attention to this, including:
Roadcc (23 September 2018) London school makes pupils who cycle put number plates on bikes
Cycling Weekly (25 September 2018) School to enforce mandatory number plates after kids cycling to school ‘endanger themselves and others’;
The Independent (25 September 2018) London school bans pupils from cycling unless they use bicycle number plates;
Sky News (25 September 2018) Headteacher bans pupils from cycling to school without number plates’;
ITV News (25 September 2018) Pupils at south London school ordered to display number plates on bikes
BBC News (25 September 2018) Children to be banned from cycling to school without number plates, with a follow-up article (also 25 September) Readers in a spin over school bike number plate plan.
So, on 1 October, we sent the following email to the headteacher:
Dear Mr Amin,
We are writing on behalf of the London Cycling Campaign and Get Sutton Cycling, the borough cycling group.
We commend that your school already recommends parents not drive to school or park nearby, and promotes walking and cycling to school. We recognise your plans on licence plates come in the context of your aim to boost active travel rates to school. We would love to stand alongside the school, in fact, to aid that aim. And we have some suggestions where we can help you on that:
– Ensuring every child in the school has access to Bikeability training would enable more to feel confident cycling to school, and working with the trainers it would be possible to target any behaviours that you say currently “endanger” students.
– The TfL STARS programme is aimed at enabling more staff, students and parents to cycle and walk to school. At present the school doesn’t appear to be an active participant in the programme (https://stars.tfl.gov.uk/School/143002), but many other local schools are.
– The roads around the school are hostile to cycling, and we believe there are fairly easy changes to them we could jointly push Sutton Council for. In 2014, during London Cycling Campaign’s “Space for Cycling” local election campaign, Get Sutton Cycling’s ward ask for the area highlighted “potential for access improvements to Stanley Park High School by bicycle” and asked for “a review and audit” of the local streets. One possibility would be to investigate a “school street” as Hackney, Waltham Forest and Croydon are all trialling that closes the access road, Fountain Drive/Diamond Jubilee Way at school pickup/dropoff times to everyone but residents of the estate beyond. This would be a simple, formal extension of your proposal that parents drop off kids further away from the school.
Hopefully, with these ideas we can promote cycling and walking together. We also, however, ask you to cancel your plans for cycle registration plates immediately.
We believe, as the response in the media and on social media shows, this proposal is negatively impacting the school’s reputation. It will also, however, not increase cycling among students – quite the opposite. Whenever barriers are put in the way of people cycling, fewer people cycle. This has been demonstrated wherever and whenever such schemes are tried.
Asking children to wear number plates will reduce the number of children willing to cycle to school, will stigmatise those that do and is utterly beyond the appropriate reach of the school – you cannot and should not be dictating the behaviour of students in this manner beyond the school grounds. It also is an idea riddled with potential issues – what happens if someone hides their plate on the way in? what happens if a member of the public does make a claim about a child carrying one that is contested? what happens if one child takes the plate of another child, or loses theirs?
Perhaps worst of all, this proposal puts the onus on students for their safety, not on local roads or drivers. It is road design and driver behaviour that represent the main risks to those cycling. In a study of thousands of UK cycle-vehicle collisions, for instance, around three quarters of collisions were majority or wholly down to driver error. Recently released police statistics suggest an even higher proportion of cycle-vehicle collisions are due to driver behaviour. Given this, it would likely be far more appropriate to enforce stringent rules on parents driving their children to school, than on children cycling to school.
London Cycling Campaign has long campaigned for road design and other measures to ensure most children feel safe cycling to and from school, and behaving like children do, without fear of motor vehicles – as they do in the Netherlands, for instance. In some parts of London, such as the “mini-Holland” outer London boroughs of Enfield and Waltham Forest, this is increasingly a reality. These outer London boroughs show that Sutton could do far better for the children cycling on its streets and those that are currently too scared to.
Our borough group in Waltham Forest runs regular tours of the schemes there. We urge you to not just work with us on the above items, and drop the licence plate plan, but join us on a tour of the Waltham Forest mini-Holland as soon as possible, perhaps with local councillors, to see first-hand what is achievable in London.
Simon Munk (London Cycling Campaign)
Charles Martin (Get Sutton Cycling)
1 October 2018
Get Sutton Cycling / LCC (July 2014) Space for Cycling: actions points for Sutton
Sustrans (25 September 2018): Our response to the cycle registration scheme at Stanley Park High in Carshalton
Getty Images / ITV News Sir Chris Hoy criticises south London school over bike number plates
Our thanks too, to Camden Cyclists for posting Children to be banned from cycling to school without number plates
v1: 27 November 2018