Tips for creating a healthy school

Written by: Amy Cook | Published:
Photo: MA Education

Amy Cook suggests three ways your school community can get healthy and stay healthy this year

With the new year well underway and well-intentioned health-improving resolutions most likely falling by the wayside for adults and children alike, now seems like a good time to take stock and look at how schools can play their part in promoting healthy lifestyles all year round.

So, to help reinvigorate your 2016 health-kick, here are three practical steps you can take to help pupils achieve healthier and happier lives year-round – and not just a healthier January.

1, Encourage a healthy approach to all food eaten in school

If you are a follower of the School Food Plan, you will know that in 2013 it reported that just one in every 100 packed lunches met the nutritional standards for school food in place at that time. While tighter standards have since been introduced for school food itself, it is no wonder that some schools also keep tabs on what students bring in to eat from home.

At Skinners Academy in Hackney, for instance, packed lunches are regularly reviewed by teaching and catering staff to make sure they comply with the current standards for school food. When they don’t, students and their parents receive a letter reminding them of the rules. It is important not to “punish” pupils or their families, though, and Leeds City Council advises against removing food. Instead, it says to focus on food education and promote positive messages that reflect your school’s healthy culture.

If packed lunches are causing problems, why not encourage take-up of school meals instead? Putting your canteen at the centre of school life is one way to draw students to healthier options.

At Carshalton Boys Sports College in Sutton, the headteacher competed with local food outlets for older pupils’ custom by hiring an experienced restaurant chef to help the school serve food that is as tasty as it is nutritious. You might also consider introducing a lunchtime curfew on pupils leaving the school premises, to stop them from buying junk food.

As an alternative method of discouraging pupils from sneaking out, how about following in the steps of All Saints Secondary School in Glasgow, and setting up lunchtime activities such as film clubs, art clubs and chill-out zones with access to Wii games?

2, Make exercise a part of every pupil’s school day

If you are in conversation with your colleagues in primary schools, you might have heard of the “daily mile” initiative, whereby pupils run, jog or walk one mile every day. There is also the NHS Couch to 5k scheme. Might a similar initiative work in your school? It is a great way to get all students involved, and not just those who normally sign up for school clubs and teams.

Lee Murphy from the Youth Sport Trust explained that introducing new and different sports can be the key in getting all young people active. If traditional team games such as netball and football are not engaging your pupils in PE lessons and sports clubs, what about roller-blading classes or step-aerobics?

It is also important to tailor sports classes and clubs to each student’s skill level, and to recognise individual achievements.

Mr Murphy added: “There’s an anxiety around having to be the best at sport in schools that can put young people off joining in.”

Students should work on improving their fitness from their own starting points – each student can work on achieving a personal best independent of anybody else, and these successes should be celebrated.

3, Promote good mental health too

Eating right and getting moving are all well and good, but physical good health needs to be accompanied by sound mental health. Boosting pupils’ self-esteem is one way that schools are promoting mental wellbeing.

HandsOnScotland recommends improving pupils’ belief in their ability, their sense of worth, and sense of responsibility for their actions. Asking pupils to reflect on their confidence levels can be a useful first step in building self-esteem. Teachers might also explore how words can affect how a young person feels about him/herself.

The responsibility for promoting good mental health in children extends beyond the school gates, however: families play a significant role too.

The charity Family Lives explains how parents can help their children to build self-esteem. For example, where children are struggling with the way they look or feel, the charity advises parents to talk to them about the positive aspects of their personality and character, helping the child to understand that it is the person inside who really counts.

Taking a similar approach in school may also be useful – and sharing such information with parents may help to ensure that any work you do to boost pupils’ self-esteem in school will be complemented at home.

  • Amy Cook is blog editor at The Key, which provides leadership and management support to schools.

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