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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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

Developing Gymnasts Without a Gymnasium

How can you develop gymnasts without a gymnasium, rugby players without a rugby pitch or tennis players without a tennis court?
The quick answer is to think Physical Education, not sports coaching. Developing the physical fundamental movement skills and wider multi-ability skills (personal, social, creative etc) that every sports performer requires to compete at a high (or any) level, can be developed in a range of ways and in some less obvious locations.

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Leaving my jersey in a better place

I have spent this last term in an unfamiliar position. I have handed in my notice, having worked at Bath Community Academy (and its predecessor, Culverhay school) for 15 years. This includes a year of initial teacher training in 2001. I have accepted a new contract at Winterbourne International Academy (WIA) as Assistant Principal – minority / vulnerable groups achievement, including SENCo.

Having seen many staff come and go over the years, I myself, have never experienced working in a school, knowing I was soon to leave. Until now that is. Continue reading

Not just surviving, but thriving in your NQT year

Gone are the days where all of your trainee peers secure full time contracts by the time they have finished their initial teacher training (it’s certainly a different landscape to when I qualified in 2002). I am having more and more conversations with people entering the profession who are unsure about their immediate and long term future. With more people moving to teaching from other careers (as opposed to the more traditional post graduate route) and often with families to support, it can be quite an unsettling time. This may not make you feel any better, but I spotted this quote on Twitter via @growthmindset1

 

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In a recent conversion with a (nearly) Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT), I was asked to consider what advice I would give for their first year in post. They have a one year fixed term contract as cover for maternity leave. This post is aimed less at surviving their first year, more about preparing them to be an attractive appointment for a school in one year’s time. Continue reading