It has become clearer than ever through Covid, that children and young people’s mental and physical health are inextricably linked. As things stand one of the biggest burgeoning crises in our society is the catastrophic level of obesity and overweight pupils of school age, due to unhealthy and sedentary lifestyles, and lack of meaningful provision of any way to tackle this. It is a ticking time bomb in terms of life expectancy, life quality (mental and physical), life potential and health – from diabetes to heart problems, eating disorders, mental health problems, and problems with learning, and long-term increased dependency on services and the NHS through life. Covid has demonstrated that the overweight and obese are particularly vulnerable to such viruses with catastrophic outcomes.
With the majority of pupils living in families where their parents work full time, there is a need to provide mental and physical wellbeing within the education system, as the foundation for their development to fulfil their potential as happy, healthy individuals, from whatever their social background; it gives pupils confidence, improves cognitive ability, and helps them to learn the importance of respecting themselves and others, and taking care of themselves, and in turn their own children, and giving them sound building blocks for their lives.
Proposal is to provide all school-age pupils, whether within cities, towns or rural villages, with the opportunity to boost their mental and physical wellbeing with a programme of a variety of daily exercise such as yoga, strength & conditioning, running, dance, swimming (through leisure centres) based around the facilities available at their schools and in the local community. It can be rotated for different age groups through the week (eg. in groups of 2 years), eg. so that all pupils can take part at one time eg. in the school sports hall) or for larger schools, in either morning or afternoon (8.30 or 3.30). Each school from the age of primary school upwards, to have the school day extended by 90 minutes. Eg. an age-group session can be held at 8.30am for 90 minutes, or 3.30pm for 90 minutes, or during a timetabled double-period during the day, so that there is time for changing, and a full hour’s participation.
Rather than being part of the overall education budget (which risks it being appropriated for other uses), this should be Government-funded (separately from all other costs), with full accountability to specialist Minister for Mental and Physical Wellbeing for Schools, accountable to the Depts of Education/Health/Sport. The provision will be compulsory and inspected by Ofsted (who must also be trained on this). Within each school, it must be centrally coordinated member of staff trained/appointed and given responsibility for coordinating this as part of the curriculum. Depending on the School headcount/age range, a school may need more than one appointment. Also to provide funds necessary to train staff already employed at the school, to contribute (potentially with invcentives separate to their basic salaries).
It can be developed to help older pupils develop their interest in outside sports, through coordination with clubs and other schools in their areas. Also can be further developed to help pupils learn about health and nutrition and the interdependence of both on their mental and physical wellbeing.
The scheme to provide eg. exercise/yoga mats and PE/training kit for each pupil on an annual basis (schools can run a recycling second-hand outlet for outgrown clothing). Each pupil over 11 to b responsible for their kit/laundry (leggings/shorts and t-shirt or they can use their own kit). Up until this age, school will be responsible for providing and laundering all kit on a weekly basis, and kit to be stored at school.
GCSE PE (or the half-GCSE) which incorporates health and nutrition, to become part of every pupil’s core curriculum so that all pupils continue to benefit from PE (which incorporates health/nutrition) until 16; and all pupils of 6th form age to have access to core PE through their place of education.
This investment in the health and wellbeing of all pupils, will pay dividends, in giving all pupils, regardless of where they live or their background, the best chance to live fulfilling and healthy lives, having learned to take responsibility for their mental and physical wellbeing as far as they are able, and be able to contribute to society, and in time raise their own families with the benefit of this education (which will likely need to be provided on a long term basis since the cost of living/housing relative to earnings, means that most families have two full time working parents). The societal and individual benefits are priceless and impossible to put a value on – they are colossal. In practical financial terms there will be increasing short, medium and long term savings to the Treasury, through a decreased dependency on the NHS and wider services.