Time to act – Addressing the root causes of childhood mental and physical health problems. 

The frequency of reports in the media about increasing levels of mental health problems in children, the rising levels of childhood obesity and the looming diabetes timebomb is deeply concerning.
As a passionate school leader and physical education practitioner, my concern is matched with anger and frustration. These worrying reports are coupled with ongoing research with overwhelming evidence that physical activity not only has significant physical and mental health benefits but also improves academic performance. And yet we continue to see a steady flow of reports informing us that more and more children are being put off physical activity and sport from an early age.

Whilst some schools appear to be getting their PE and school sport strategy right, there continues to be far too many schools that are not; certainly not for every child. This, being the case, despite the extra finding being provided by the PE and school sport premium funding. Something needs to be done.

So what can be done about all of these issues when it’s no secret that funding in education is becoming more and more restricted, leading to pressures on staffing structures in schools and the level of support that schools can offer students.

I often wonder what the value of a truly inclusive PE, school sport and enrichment program would be.

Imagine a world where every school:

– have 100% engagement in a fit for purpose PE programme. 

– Has a range of extra curricular opportunities that engages every child. 

– Has an enriched curriculum that inspires a love of learning.

Where every child:

– feels happy, valued, included, more confident and less anxious so that learning is at the forefront of their minds, giving them the strategies and strength to manage the worry of external pressures.

Leading to:

– Improved behaviour.

– More positive relationships with peers and staff.

– More focussed and motivated learners.

– Improved academic outcomes and life changes for every child.

A reversal of the Governments funding strategy is unlikely any time soon, requiring schools to be creative about how to achieve more on less resources. However, if my utopian vision of a happier and healthier student population is realised, there will be less demand placed on student support services, school nurses, school counselling, pastoral leaders, safe guarding leads, referrals to CAMHS, etc. More important is the value added to the quality of life and well-being of young people and the subsequent impact on their future life chances.

A significant amount of money is already spent on vulnerable students, including the pupil premium grant and SEN budgets to support targeted disadvantaged students. I wonder what impact this inclusive vision would have on the outcomes of these students, such that the extra spending would just add further value to their education, rather than attempts to merely catch up with their peers.

I have seen a number of schools with outstanding teaching and learning strategies that have enabled a majority of the students to thrive, but have unintentionally marginalised and failed the most vulnerable students that rely on their schools more than any others to give them the best start in life.

Are school leaders brave enough to put physical and mental well being at the very top of their agenda; creating the right conditions so that all students can thrive, helping them realise and fulfil their full potential. I wonder how many senior leadership posts clearly define their main responsibilities as achieving these aims. 

The message to new parents would be clear: 

– Our priority is your child’s well-being. 

– Your child will feel valued, safe and part of our community. 

– As a result, your child will thrive as academically and holistically, preparing them for a rapidly changing and challenging world. 

That’s a school I would love my own children to attend.
That is a job I would love to have.

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Assuming Complex Needs 

In my role as Assistant Principal with responsibility for vulnerable and minority student achievement (including the role of SENCO), I wanted to remind staff on our return to school after the summer holidays, of our duty to strive towards an outstanding education provision for all students in our care. It sounds like an obvious thing to say (and risks being patronising), but results still demonstrate that children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who have special educational needs continue to perform less well than their peers in many parts of the country. I acknowledge that some schools are getting this right and are producing great outcomes for these vulnerable groups.

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Making your your students want to drink.

IMG_0260Many years ago, as I was embarking on my teaching career, I spent a significant amount of my life emersed in the world of horses. My unexpected arrival into the horse world resulted from meeting my now wife, the proud owner of two horses. The early days were spent mainly sweeping up and mucking out (and observing from a safe distance!), before being promoted to Assistant Groom and then then finally being taught how to ride by my wife.

In a very short period of time, I fell in love with horses; connecting with such an amazing animal is a special experience.

I went to see a demonstration from a man called Monty Roberts (The man who listens to horses) on a wet winters night, sat in a cold barn in the south of England. This experience literally changed my life. A bold statement perhaps, but that night shaped my ethos in education and more broadly with how I approach relationships with humans and animals alike.
 

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Shifting a culture of attainment to one of progress…in 5 minutes! 

It was another fresh January day, the sun was shining, the temperature close to freezing and students were passing the time during their lunch break. 

As I approached a group of KS 3 students on my lunch time walkabout, they looked as though they could have done with some direction and purpose. As I engaged in conversation with the group, a student reminded me of a chat we had earlier in the year about Parkour. I hope to one day create a Parkour club, but need to ensure I have the capacity to consistently commit to the students each week.

I set down a couple of tokens (used to reward positive behaviours around the school) marking set distances from a low wall that we were standing next to. I demonstrated a simple precision jump  for them from the first level, landing on top of the brick work with control and balance on the balls of my feet. A few students then had a go with varying degrees of success, but there were many that were reluctant to make any attempt. Continue reading

Cheers Drive – Leading (and Learning) on the Buses

It was a rainy afternoon during the last week of Term 2, when I found myself captivated by a gentlemen who I had only just met. He was talking to me about the importance of building a culture of respect when working with young people. He was driving a school bus, as he has done twice a day either side of his work as a civil engineer, for over 20 years. Little did I realise that I would learn so much on this single journey.

What is your Secret Sauce?

This image was sent to me courtesy of Gaping Void’s daily email service. Sign up for it for free here.

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It is one of many images they have created that I have liked over the years. What I really enjoy is reading about the story behind the image. Most of them are written in the context of the business world, but leadership concepts can be applied across many areas. My natural instinct is to adapt them to the world of education.

How will I use this in school?

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Building Confidence…Through Cups!?

During the summer holiday, I was taught by eldest niece how to do the cup song (somehow I’ve missed the phenomenon over recent years!?). I had to learn all of the moves/actions, I grappled with the timing, strained under the pressure of performing it in time with my niece (darn quick hands at the age of 10) and couldn’t resist challenging her to create a sequence / performance that involved us both. I became mentally exhausted after an intense 30 minute period.

I have taken great pride in recent years being part of a PE Department that has created a culture where children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have thrived. As part of my new role, which includes SENCo, I am spending considerable time within the SEND department. As I was thrown into the learning pit by my niece, I made a number of comparisons to PE lessons I have taught in recent years. My brain started to generate ideas about how the cup song could be used as a vehicle to develop learning confidence. Continue reading