Promoting healthy habits in school

Britain has one of the highest child obesity rates in western Europe.

At my school in Deptford, this issue is exacerbated by high poverty levels and a high street full of unhealthy kebabs and fried chicken takeaways.

When pupils in my borough start reception, one in five are obese or overweight, which is in line with the national average. But by the time they leave primary school, those numbers are double the national average.

Lockdown lack of activity

The pandemic and multiple lockdowns have made this worse. With leisure centres closed and sports classes cancelled, children have had fewer opportunities for exercise.

Figures from Sport England show that the majority of young people failed to meet the recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise in the 2019/20 academic year. And almost a third of children (2.3 million) were classed as 'inactive' thanks to restrictions during the lockdown, not even doing 30 minutes of exercise a day.

Getting kids moving again is a priority, not only for their physical health but their mental health too. This is especially important as many studies have highlighted that mental well-being issues are increasing in young people.

A day full of movement

At my school, we have piloted a programme to fight obesity, focusing on physical exercise.

Seeing the enthusiasm our kids had for PE made us think about incorporating activity into other lessons in the school day. We started using ready-made active learning lesson plans from Teach Active. This meant we could increase physical activity in both maths and English lessons, getting the kids moving about multiple times during the day.

A real favourite among students is a game called flossy corners. Teachers call out the name of a shape and kids have to run around the classroom finding the matching shape and do the floss dance when they find it. This can also be used in English, where they look for synonyms of a word the teacher has said and then dance when they are standing next to the right word. It can be played in the classroom or the playground and is popular with teachers and students in all year groups.

Wider benefits

Our aim was to increase physical activity and create a strong sporting culture at school, giving our students life-long skills that would improve their health. However, there have been positive outcomes from an academic perspective as well.

We found that physically active learning works well when used with small groups of children who need extra support. Last year we decided to focus on active lessons with a group of pupils who were underachieving. Eight year five boys who were classed as vulnerable came into school during the lockdown and we put them in a bubble together. Thanks to the active lessons, they not only met expected standards at the end of year five but are staying on track now they are in year six.

Whether it’s a whole lesson outside in the playground, an active starter that gets students moving at the beginning of the lesson, or an incentive to go and play a game towards the end of the lesson – there’s no doubt that our children love the physical activity. It’s having a positive impact on their health and their attainment in school too.

Rachael Smith is a year 5 teacher and PE coordinator at Tidemill Academy in Deptford. Her school uses lesson plans from Teach Active. View full Children & Young People Now article - Click Here

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