PN: I’m here to find out more about the Sustrans EcoRace, but first tell me a bit about your role in the school.

PA: I started here three years ago, doing history and geography. When the PE teacher, Mr Lucas, needed some assistance, I said I’d help out. He semi-retired 18 months ago and I’ve been in charge of PE since then, as well as teaching maths, and looking after KS1 and Reception phases. Looking after PE includes organising the Bikeability scheme and the EcoRace. We’re also part of Active Essex and the Colchester Blackwater School Sports Partnership (cricket, athletics, cross country); Essex FA who promote our girls’ football club; and the Colchester Primary Sports Leagues (football, netball). In fact, we won both their football and netball cups last year, and the leagues – we had a very competitive cohort, and they left a good legacy, they raised the PE profile, and gave us a bigger, shinier trophy cabinet! Some children can only run for 10 minutes or so before their energy runs out, but if they want to do football or netball, they have to run for 20 minutes at a time, so their stamina needs to improve. We’re trying to get a more active timetable, as the two hours a week for PE is probably the only exercise that some of them get. That’s why we try and encourage parents to park a bit further away from school, as it eases congestion and gets the children used to walking a little way.

PN: So how well supported is Bikeability, does pretty well everybody do it?

PA: We organise Bikeability training through Essex County Council. It starts with Yr 2 doing a Road Awareness course before Bikeability in Yr 6. There’s generally a waiting list, so we decide which children have a bit less co-ordination and need the extra help from learning to balance. If they can get their balance, they’re more confident as well, and it makes them proud to do it on their own. You see them riding round streets near the school, all doing their hand signals and with their helmets on; or whizzing up and down the playground, doing their slowing down signs. So they have all learnt and taken it on board once they’ve done the course, they’re very keen on it.

PN: And do you find the drivers locally are aware of young cyclists?

PA: Well, the little roads round here are quite safe, they’re not cut-through, fast roads. And this road around the school is quite narrow, so you’re aware there are children about anyway. But there are lots more cars full stop these days, and not so many children on their bikes, not as many as ten years ago. It’s a social thing, I think: parents’ time is restricted, and they’re concerned about safety. And I don’t think children are taught as much outside school about how to ride a bicycle – to go to the park, and keep going until they’ve mastered it, maybe they don’t have the same patience levels. But we have a lot more of them on scooters now, so the children are still physically active, but not in the way we used to be.

PN: Tell me a bit about your own cycling.

PA: I was always out on a bike when I was a kid. I can’t remember my first one, but my brother had a Chopper, and my second bike was a green Striker, a mountain bike with big, fat tyres. We lived in Ardleigh on the land settlement and we had a massive garden among all the greenhouses, so it was easy just to ride around on a bicycle. I remember riding from my house to the shops and just going off for ages. Our parents didn’t worry about where we went, we just had to be back on time, we didn’t have any phones then. Our parents were busy in the greenhouses with tomatoes and lettuces, so they didn’t mind as long as we were back on time.

When we moved to Lawford, that’s when the roads were busier and my enthusiasm was curtailed, by the time you get to secondary school you’re not doing it for pleasure any more, you lose the enjoyment of going out on your own. I had lots of other commitments and football took over. Now I’m encouraging my own son to cycle. It was a really good way of getting him learning how to do two things at once, to steer and to pedal, and once it clicked, off he went. We haven’t had our bikes out during the winter, so we need to get started again and get the balance and co-ordination back. But he’s certainly more confident, he’s in Yr 6 and will be going to secondary school next year and will have the choice of walking or cycling to school.

Where I live in Langham, there are a few hills that get me puffing, as I don’t cycle every day. But I like to stick the bike in the car to do a regular route, and I’ve been to Alton Water a couple of times. And I like the apps on my phone to see how far I’ve travelled and how much energy I’ve used up, that makes it more interesting.

PN: So, tell me a bit more about the EcoRace.

PA: We do the EcoRace for a 3 week period each term, it’s a whole school activity, and we publicise it in the school newsletter to try and boost the numbers. The classes do a survey of how the children got to school that day and they gain points for how they’ve travelled, with 1 point for coming by car, 4 by bus, and 5 for walking, scooting or cycling, so basically we’re hoping to discourage children coming by car. In the older classes the children manage the survey themselves, they are honest about how they came to school that morning, and for the younger ones, we just ask them when we’re doing the register how they got to school today. Then the office sends the collated sheets to Sustrans, and there are prizes for the best results.

This term it runs from Monday 29 February to Friday 18 March, that’s the same dates for all schools in Essex. When we do the survey, there are more scooters than bikes, but the bike shed still has quite few more bikes than usual, weather permitting. You don’t see any in the rain! In weather like this it’s harder, but we get a higher response in summer. This year we want to do an even bigger push, as the road here still gets very congested, even with some parents parking further away and walking the rest of the way to school.

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