Call comes ahead of publication of figures today showing sports participation up

The AA, CTC, Sustrans, All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group and IAM are among bodies that have joined British Cycling in urging that cycling, which they describe as an “essential life skill” be added to the National Curriculum in England to help get children active, giving it a similar status to swimming.

The appeal was made in a letter published in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, which came ahead of the publication of official figures today showing that there has been a sharp rise in the percentages of children who participated in sport in the year to September 2012.

Earlier this month, British Cycling urged all cyclists to participate in a Department for Education (DfE) consultation on the National Curriculum for five to 14-year-olds to ask that cycling be included alongside activities such as swimming, tennis and badminton, and team sports including football, hockey and cricket.

The letter, published on the same day the APPCG launched its Get Britain Cycling report, reads:

SIR – The Department for Education’s current review of the National Curriculum is a vital opportunity to ensure that all young people in England receive quality cycle training.

Like swimming (which is already on the curriculum), being able to ride a bike confidently on the road is an essential skill for an active and healthy lifestyle.

Most children have a bike and want to cycle to school, but only 2 per cent actually do so. With childhood obesity rising and physical activity levels falling, encouraging active travel is vital to the nation’s future health and well-being.

“Bikeability” sets the national standard for cycle training, which gives participants of all ages the skills and confidence for everyday cycling. At the moment only half of children in England have access to Bikeability. It’s a postcode lottery that means some children will learn to cycle safely and confidently, while others won’t.

MPs and peers today call for action to “get Britain cycling”, including cycle training in the National Curriculum; this would help revolutionise children’s health, independence and well-being.

Figures released today, meanwhile, show that participation levels in sport among youngsters received a boost partly thanks to London’s hosting of the Olympic and Paralympic Games last year.

According to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport,

The number of children participating in sport increased significantly in the 6 months to September 2012 as excitement around the Olympic and Paralympic Games intensified.

The percentage of children aged 11-15 who participated in sport in the last week (when surveyed) increased from 86.6%, for the 12 months to the end of March 2012, to 94.4% for the 12 months to the end of September 2012.

The percentage of children aged 5-10 participating in sport, outside of school, in the last week also rose from 69.9% for the 12 months to the end of March 2012, to 76% for the 12 months to the end of September 2012.

Sports Minister Hugh Robertson commented: “These figures give further evidence to the impact hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games had on inspiring young people to get involved in sport. We have a strong, tangible sports legacy in place; increasing opportunities for people to participate in sport and improving facilities. We want to see these numbers continue to rise and create a culture where people have a sporting habit for life.”

Sustainable transport charity Sustrans, however, has told the government that child obesity cannot be tackled through sport alone. Spokesman Joe Williams said: “While the Olympic effect may have switched more kids on to sport, for a lasting legacy we need to remember that not everyone thrives in competition.

“If we’re going to tackle child obesity and help everyone to live healthier lives, we need to transform the space outside children’s front doors making them safe for play and for walking and cycling to be a natural choice.

“Children and adults need to get exercise as part of their everyday lives, and this means reducing the speed of traffic in their neighbourhoods, creating spaces and routes for them to walk and cycle with confidence and getting cycling on the school curriculum.”

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.