There is a somewhat jubilant mood at Teacher Support Network HQ at the moment. It could be that the team is excited about the many new initiatives and fundraising plans we have in train, but I suspect that it has a lot to do with the fact that the sun has finally started shining.
It has been a very long winter and like most schools and staffrooms, our office has been abuzz with complaints about the wind, rain, snow and cold outside.
Research from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found that severe weather has been the top cause of disruption to British businesses over the last year. In fact, weather has been identified as the top cause of disruption for the last three years running.
The report found that 77 per cent of organisations were adversely affected by the snow this winter. Key disruptions included travel and childcare issues, which prevented people from getting to work and school. Yet, could the impact of this winter’s weather be more than just financial? There is much research linking weather and health. Most reveal similar findings about how the weather can affect health and wellbeing.
The light stops the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. This naturally makes us less tired, more awake and gives us more energy. At the same time, sunlight encourages us to produce more serotonin, which makes us happy (serotonin is the hormone commonly used in anti-depressants).
When we are cold, we use most of our energy to warm us up. This is why we eat more when we are cold and why we can feel lethargic. We are also more likely to get ill when we are cold and on the top of that the cold exacerbates existing chronic pain. Your sleep is also affected by the cold. It is likely to be lighter, which means your body and mind do not recuperate as well as they might in a deeper sleep.
Finally, bad weather is more than likely to reduce your social life, as people tend not to venture out. This can lead to low mood, frustration and eventually depression.
For schools, there are additional implications. Research from the University of East Anglia and Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge looked at the impact of rainfall and break-time policies on children.
They found that “increased rainfall was associated with a decrease in children’s physical activity”. They explain that: “Relative to days with no rain, children spent 9.4 minutes fewer in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (and) were sedentary for 13.6 minutes more.”
The research states that “schools’ policies can modify this association, and providing indoor physical activities in wet weather may help children maintain physical activity levels”.
We cannot control the weather, so we cannot control its impact. In the CMI study, for example, when asked what could potentially disrupt their business in the future, the weather barely made the top 10 risk factors. Yet given that the physical activity behaviours we learn as children are likely to extend into adulthood, could the poor weather have longer term repercussions? What are the consequences for teachers who are likely to be suffering themselves from the bad weather?
These questions take on added impetus following Michael Gove raising the issue of the length of school days and school breaks, and calling for longer days and shorter holidays. It is a discussion that will continue to run and run. In the meantime, enjoy the sunshine – if it lasts...
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).