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.
– 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.