Cycling politicians face panel of pupil judges

Published on Thursday 26 January 2012 08:29

NORMALLY it is the adults who test and assess the children.

But yesterday a group of school pupils were the ones handing out the marks – and not merely to adults, but to a group of powerful Stormont politicians no less.

The Gilnahirk Primary School kids were equipped with high vis jackets and cycle score cards as they put the MLAs through the ‘Bike It’ challenge.

The ultimate aim of the scheme is to get more children cycling to school.

The project first tries to assess whether participants are safe cycling on the road.

And to show how rigorous the safety provisions are, the Assembly’s regional development committee received a briefing from pupils on cycle safety – which included bike inspection, puncture repair and helmets.

Then they submitted to a scored cycling test.

With plenty of school yard jeering at the starting line, mainly from grown ups, there was a clear sense of competition among the MLAs.

Committee chairman Jimmy Spratt was first up, and despite joking that this was his first exercise of the month, managed to earn scores of 10, 8, 9 and 7 out of 10 from four cycling judges.

Roy Beggs, who was next, voiced concerns that he would forget everything he had learned at school about cycling, but still managed to pick up an agreed score of 10 from the judges.

While staying within the lines, Ian McCrea perhaps deserves a special mention as the fastest MLA on wheels – and he also scored 10.

Eight schools in Belfast are participating in the Bike It programme, and it has seen daily cycling figures increase from five per cent to 14 per cent.

In Gilnahirk alone approximately a quarter of pupils are now cycling to school every day.

Among them is Abbi Stannex, 10, who told the News Letter: “I enjoy cycling to school, except when it’s raining.” The cycling judge added that the Sustrans Bike It programme “was really fun because there’s loads of activities”.

Another judge, Lauren Matthews, 10, pointed out that there was also plenty of rewards for cyclists at school.

“Sometimes you get a cycle breakfast and we also had Santa cycling, where you cycled for 16 days and got a present.”

Gilnahirk principal Stephen Harrison, who was named as the judges’ cyclist of the day, said the scheme also helped to reassure parents about their children’s safety on the road.

“We’re delighted with the response. The on road training and on playground training that we use do put parents mind at ease. I’m also particularly pleased about the amount of parents who accompany their children to school as well, it makes a big difference.”

Michael Copeland, MLA, pointed to the vast increase in traffic volume which meant that cycle instruction for children was becoming more important.

“Cycling is a very proficient and healthy way of travel,” he said. “It’s therefore essential that children are equipped to do it safely.

“I’m thoroughly impressed with the demonstration today, particularly the instruction on the proper way to put on a helmet and bike inspection.”

Dolores Kelly, MLA, said she supported updating the cycling proficiency test,

“I know there’s a proposal to try and get the minister, Alex Attwood, to develop the type of cycling proficiency tests and training available to schoolchildren which is more up to date in terms of the traffic that’s now on our roads.”

Mr Spratt said the Bike It programme was “the way forward for schools,” and that he believed cycling in Northern Ireland should get more support.

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