Examining the reach and effectiveness of cycle training in schools using the Millennium Cohort Study

Lead Research Organisation: London Sch of Hygiene and Trop Medicine
Department Name: Epidemiology and Population Health


Promoting cycling, including promoting cycling among children, would be expected to deliver substantial benefits in terms of population health and environmental sustainability. Many children do not meet government recommendations in terms of the amount of exercise they do, and increasing levels of cycling would be one way in which they could incorporate additional physical activity into their everyday lives. In addition, many children are currently driven relatively short distances by their parents to be dropped off at school or other destinations. If more children instead made these trips by bicycle then this would also be expected to reduce the congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions associated with motorised transport.

Since 2007, one of the Department for Transport's flagship policies to promote cycling is the delivery of 'Bikeability' cycle proficiency training in schools. Currently, around half of children in England are offered the training for free before they leave primary school, and the annual cost of the programme to the Department for Transport is £11 million. However there exists very little robust evidence regarding which particular children get the cycle training, or regarding the effect the scheme has on subsequent cycling behaviour.

In collaboration with the Department for Transport, this proposal will seek to fill these gaps in the evidence using data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS). MCS is a nationally-representative birth cohort which has now been surveyed five times, most recently in 2012 at age 10/11. In this most recent sweep, 8,700 parents in England were asked if their children had "ever done any formal cycling proficiency training such as 'Bikeability'". Parents were also asked how often their children used their bicycles. Using these data, we will seek to answer two broad research questions. First we will examine which individual, family and area characteristics help explain why some children do cycle raining and some do not; for example, are boys more likely than girls to get the training, or are children from richer areas more likely to get the training than those from poorer areas? Second, we will examine whether children do in fact cycle more often if they have been offered cycle training in school. Answering this second question will involve comparing children whose schools had already offered cycle training at the time of the MCS survey with children whose schools offered cycle training later in the same year. If cycle training is effective, our prediction is that the first set of children would report cycling more often than the second set of children. As a part of this second research question, we will examine whether there is any evidence that cycle training works better for some sorts of children than for others - for example, whether it has a bigger effect on boys than on girls.

Together, answering these two questions will provide the most robust evidence to date regarding the effectiveness of cycle training in schools, and regarding whether all children benefit equally. Our non-academic partners, the Department for Transport, will then be able to use this evidence as part of deciding how best to pursue their goal of increasing cycling in childhood in an effective, cost-effective and equitable manner. Our findings will also have broader relevance for the international evidence base, helping to address the current lack of robust studies examining the effectiveness and equity of different types of policies to promote cycling.

Planned Impact

In the short- to medium-term, the most direct beneficiary of this research will be the Department for Transport (DfT). This Department is our non-academic partner and is also the key policy audience for the research, insofar as it funds and manages the Bikeability scheme, and will be reviewing its plans for the future of this scheme as part of the 2015 spending review. Our research will provide the Department with the most robust evidence available to date regarding which children get Bikeability training and regarding the short-term effect of that training on cycling behaviour. Quantifying this will be of use to them in conducting their own planned economic evaluation, while any evidence regarding differential uptake or effectiveness may provide a useful first step to improving the reach and equity of the programme. The DfT will host the PI as a visiting researcher on secondment during prolonged periods of this grant; this will help create an effective and fruitful collaboration, and will ensure that we can provide the Department for Transport with the most relevant information possible in order to aid its decision-making with regard to the future implementation of Bikeability.

In the medium- to long term, it is hoped that informing the evidence base underlying the Bikeability scheme will benefit the children who in the future will be the recipients of government and non-government spending on cycling, both in the UK and internationally. For parents and schools, our findings may be of interest in informing their own choices about whether to seek cycle training for their children or to offer it in their schools. For those delivering the cycle training, evidence on differential uptake of the scheme should prompt the examination of new ways to make access more equitable. Similarly for those commissioning cycle training, evidence on the effectiveness - or non-effectiveness - of this and other alternative schemes can ultimately inform decision-making as to how best to invest in promoting cycling among children. Successfully achieving an increase in cycling during childhood would, in turn, be expected to yield important public health and environmental sustainability benefits, as well as increasing children's independent mobility and enhancing the quality of life in local neighbourhoods.

Finally, in the nearer future, it is expected that a number of primary and secondary school students from disadvantaged schools in London will benefit from the engagement work planned in the course of the proposal. Specifically, it is proposed that around 20 to 25 secondary school children will gain high-quality scientific work experience in the context of working for two weeks on research projects inspired by the current proposal. In addition to this, a larger number of primary school children will benefit from briefer engagement activities such as workshops in schools.


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Description This study examined uptake and impact of 'Bikeability'. Bikeability is a flagship government cycling scheme of high quality on- and off-road cycle training. We examined uptake and impact of the scheme using the nationally-representative Millennium Cohort Study.

Our first set of findings concerns the reach of Bikeability. The Bikeability cycle training program reaches around half of children in their final years of primary school. Some inequalities in cycle training uptake exist: cycle training participation is higher in children who are White, affluent or sporty. Importantly, these differences in participation rates are smaller in schools offering Bikeability. Further promoting Bikeability could reduce but not necessarily eliminate inequalities.

Our second set of findings concerns the impact of Bikeability cycle training upon cycling rates. Children whose school had offered Bikeability were much more likely to have completed cycle training, but did not cycle more often (49.0% of children cycled at least once per week in the intervention group whose schools had offered training before their Millennium Cohort interview vs. 49.6% in the control group whose schools offered training later in the year). There was likewise no evidence of an association with cycling independently (51.5% in the intervention group vs. 50.1% in the control group). We conclude that offering high-quality cycle training free at the point of delivery in English schools encourages children to do cycle training, but we found no evidence of short-term effects on cycling frequency or independent cycling.
Exploitation Route In relation to the existing Bikeability scheme, it will be useful to monitor how far inequalities in uptake persist. For example, one could examine whether the tendency for poorer schools to offer Bikeability less often has reduced following the introduction by some authorities of 'pool bikes' for children without their own bicycle. Future evaluation of the impacts of the training scheme upon cycling behaviour should investigate longer-term effects on cycling behaviour - although we observed no short-term effects on cycling frequency, it is possible that effects will emerge across the transition to secondary school. Future evaluation should also examine impacts on other stated Bikeability objectives such as increasing cycling safety.

In addition, our null findings with respect to short-term effects on behaviour help support the potential important of 'Bikeability Plus'. 'Bikeability Plus' is a new scheme that in 2015/16 is being piloted as a way to provide a more intensive cycling intervention - for example, by getting parents involved too. It will be most valuable to include robust evaluation of that project as it is rolled out, including and equity analysis of uptake.
Sectors Transport

Description My findings have informed the rationale for pursuing a new scheme 'Bikeability plus' that seeks to provide a more intensive dose of the intervention. Importantly, my research and collaboration with Department for Transport on this project was also was a key stimulus to the Department to commission a thorough, 2-year evaluation of Bikeablity Plus as it is rolled out. My results have also been cited by DfT as supporting efforts to provide more 'pool bikes' to children in poorer schools who do not have a bicycle of their own.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Transport
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Contribution to Bikeability evidence review
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Description Department for Transport 
Organisation Department of Transport
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I led a study using the Millennium Cohort Study to evaluate the Bikeability scheme. Besides conducting my own research, I also gave methodological and strategic advice to DfT on other Bikeability-related research projects
Collaborator Contribution The Department provided me with access to operational data, and also invited me to spend 2 years attending Bikeability monthly management meetings.
Impact 2 peer-reviewed publications (one still in progress); I am due shortly to contribute to an evidence review on Bikeability.
Start Year 2013
Description Young Scientist Programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact 70 children have taken part in one- and two-week public health work experience at LSHTM, and many of these students did projects focussed around my research interests. This included one group that did research in relation to Bikeability, and presented findings to Bikeability representatives, and a second group who used Bikeability research as one research case study

Programme very positively reviewed, as always - it is highly oversubscribed, and has received letters of commendation and awards from several London boroughs
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2007,2008,2009,2010,2011
URL http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/aboutus/introducing/publicengagement/volunteering/youngscientistsprogramme/