We quickly realised that we had an opportunity to make a really positive difference to our pupils and the wider community.
In 2006, the Freewheelers adapted cycling programme at Ravenscliffe High School - funded through the efforts of the Friends of Ravenscliffe charity - attracted funding support of over £50,000. In the last five years the project has grown rapidly, and now provides a range of cycling opportunities to people with special needs from all over West Yorkshire.
In addition to its on-site cycling facilities, the school acquired funding for a second fleet of adapted bikes two miles away at Spring Hall, a 400-metre track and athletics facility. At both locations, there is a range of bikes available for Wheelchair users and a variety of hand-cranked bikes for people with lower-limb difficulties. Pupils have the opportunity to progress from four-wheel quad bikes to trikes, and then to conventional two-wheel mountain bikes.
We run after-school clubs, cycle coaching courses, bi-monthly coached sessions at the Manchester Velodrome, and “Gifted and Talented” sessions with the Cycling Development Team at Calderdale MBC. Local schools and charities use the facilities at both Ravenscliffe School and Spring Hall free of charge, and there are timetabled slots for former pupils and adults with learning difficulties at both sites every week. Two primary special schools use the facilities to prepare their Year-6 leavers for life at Ravenscliffe (their secondary transfer school). We believe this has made the transition to Year 7 much smoother for these pupils, and parents have expressed the same feeling.
As the school and its cycling facilities have become better known, and as the general public have seen our “funky” bikes in action, we have attracted yet more interest and support. Many young adults are now taking up regular cycling sessions through the Freewheelers programme. At present, twelve special needs pupils from mainstream schools use our facilities, and several primary schools use our bikes and tracks for their cycling proficiency courses. In summer 2010 the Youth Sport Trust and Sky sponsored “Gifted and Talented” cycling sessions for fifteen pupils, and in 2011 five of our staff achieved a British Cycling Level 2 Coaching Award. OFSTED graded Ravenscliffe and its cycling facilities “Outstanding” in 2008, and in February 2010 the Freewheelers programme won a Sky Sports National Achievement Award.
Our records show that pupils are achieving high levels of cycling skills. Gifted and Talented courses have even enabled us to identify a number of pupils who have the ability to progress into competitive cycling, and a significant number of children who cannot currently and may never ride two-wheel bikes on their own are nevertheless confidently and competently cycling on tandem bicycles with adult help.
The sight of their friends enjoying themselves, acquiring skills and becoming more independent is encouraging more and more pupils to join in and start cycling. We believe this has led to a significantly fitter pupil population.
Perhaps most importantly, Freewheelers has helped our pupils become more independent. In 2006 we had just two competent two-wheel cyclists; since then we have taught more than sixty young people to cycle independently on two-wheel bikes. Off-site cycling is now part of our Key Stage 3 timetable, giving pupils in Years 8-11 the opportunity to develop travel skills as they journey with staff to Spring Hall via public transport . Twenty pupils now travel to and from school independently on public transport, where previously all our pupils had been provided with taxis.
Improving pupil independence is a key part of the work we do at Ravenscliffe, so we see this as a particularly important achievement - one which, by increasing confidence and motivation, even has a positive effect on pupil literacy and numeracy.
The success of Freewheelers is mostly down to the vision, hard work and dedication of a team of six staff. Thanks to their passion, the dream of 2004 has become a reality, and over 300 people with special needs in West Yorkshire are now cycling - and learning to cycle - every week.