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Co Armagh school heads say axing cycling proficiency funding ‘playing with young people’s lives’

"'s like you're playing with young people's lives. At the end of the day it comes down to finances and people's time. But how do you set that against a young person's life?"


Primary schools across County Armagh have lamented the decision of the Department of Infrastructure to axe funding for the cycling proficiency scheme.

The scheme, which helps children develop their cycling skills and identify risks on the road, has been running in schools for 50 years, having trained over half a million children in that time.

Now, the cuts mean that schools will have to self-fund teachers if they wish to continue the training.

A spokesperson from the DfI said: “The cycling proficiency scheme is delivered by teaching staff in schools, who receive payment from the department for doing so. Due to budget constraints, we are not currently in a position to fund this payment to teachers.

“We will still provide training for teachers, should that be needed, and any practical resources needed to deliver the scheme, should schools want to continue to provide the scheme.”

Armagh I spoke to the principals of two primary schools in County Armagh to gauge the reaction on the ground.

Greig Savage, principal of Lisnadill Primary, said he was very hopeful the school would still be able to run the scheme.

It would usually have between 15 and 20 P7 children taking part every summer term for six weeks.

“The way I look at it is that although it’s not being directly funded, there is still training going on for the teachers to deliver it,” he said.

“I think it’s important that children learn to cycle properly. By the end of the course, I can really see the improvement in their control and understanding of road safety.

“It is unfortunate that funding has dried up for it but it’s like everything else in the education sector, there have been lots of cutbacks and we have to do our best to get through it.”

However, he explained that teachers are still taking action short of strike – which means they aren’t taking after school activities on a voluntary basis – and that will also have an impact on whether the cycling proficiency goes ahead.

Asked whether the school would consider paying teachers to deliver the scheme, he added: “I have been speaking to other principals about this. If we start using money in our budget to pay for cycling, it opens up a whole can of worms. Teachers who take the choir or other activities could ask why they are not getting paid.”

Heather Murray, the principal of Millington Primary School in Portadown, says that removing funding for the scheme is like “playing with young people’s lives”.

She estimates that around two-thirds of children at the school go through the scheme, with around 80 pupils a year taking part between two groups. 

Mrs Murray said: “It’s a very well-established scheme which has probably saved a lot of young people’s lives. I would put it as strongly as that.   

“I think it’s absolutely shocking because children do still ride their bikes, particularly in holiday time. With more traffic about nowadays it’s more necessary than ever to have a scheme like cycling proficiency where children are taught very basic road safety rules and how to handle their bikes properly.

Despite the news, Mrs Murray says that the school will aim to keep the cycling proficiency course running “in some shape or form”.

She explained: “There are huge pressures on the budget and everything is really important, so we’re torn between what we are going to have to spread an already inadequate budget between. 

“Cycling proficiency is in some respects an easy loss, but in other respects it’s a very difficult loss because it’s like you’re playing with young people’s lives. At the end of the day it comes down to finances and people’s time. But how do you set that against a young person’s life? 

“I think from the department point of view, it’s probably an easy way for them to put money back into an already stretched budget, but they’re not thinking of the ramifications.” 

Yesterday, DUP MP for Upper Bann Carla Lockhart announced that she has written to the Permanent Secretary at the DfI to request reconsideration of the funding.

She commented: “The decision by the Department to do away with funding for paying teachers or instructors to deliver cycling proficiency is deeply regrettable.

“The Department talk about encouraging Active Travel to school, yet they are taking away the means by which children are taught how to cycle to school safely. That is inconsistent and illogical.

“We want to be encouraging safe active travel amongst our young people, and the best time to learn the basics is as a child. I remember doing my cycling proficiency at school and to pass the test gave a great deal of personal achievement. The Department is taking this away from children too.”

Alderman Gareth Wilson, of the Cusher Ward on ABC Council, added: “This is really not acceptable and I urge the Department to ensure that the finance is secured to support schools in the continued operation of the vital scheme.

“Even as adults, we all remember completing the cycling proficiency test at school and those tips and rules of the road stay with you through the years.

“The importance of this test from a safety perspective cannot be overstated for children and we are talking about child safety which I feel in the realm of cycling proficiency should be a non-negotiable and automatic provision in school.”

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