Classroom Secrets: it’s all work, work, work

BBC1 programme Classroom Secrets is a clever idea: stick some cameras in a Year Four (eight and nine year olds) classroom and invite the parents to watch the results. Maybe we should do this for every child. It was interesting how one set of parents thought their moppet would be quiet and diligent in class. He wasn’t. And how another believed their daughter was probably being led astray by other children. She wasn’t.

I can’t count the number of times in the past when I’ve said I was deputy head of a primary school and had the response, ‘Oh how sweet! That must be fun. Not like working with teenagers.’

No, not like teaching teenagers (I’ve done both) but different. In the past, along with other colleagues, I’ve taught small children who have bitten, screamed, sulked, ran off, hidden and kicked and it’s not always easy to get the parents to support their children.

One aspect of behaviour that emerged in the programme was that fact that children came into school tired on a Monday morning and not able to concentrate. We’re then shown a child eating a croissant slathered in Nutella for breakfast in front of the TV. That’s an awful lot of quick release sugar for a child’s breakfast resulting in a peak of energy followed by a dip and lack of concentration in class.

Too much sugar for a child's schools day breakfast!

But these are issues that every school has to deal with. It’s important to engage parents and children in learning about healthier lifestyles. This includes the importance of a good balanced breakfast based on the eat-well plate and why sleep is so important (the NHS recommend ten hours a night for a nine year old child.) It’s also important for schools to support parents in how to manage their child’s behaviour. Parents can’t be expected to know all the answers. Unless children are well rested, healthy and safe they will always struggle with their Latin. Are you listening Mr. Gove?

And the outcome? The parents were able to see exactly what their children were like at school and they and the teachers began to understand each other better.  The teacher changed her behaviour management style in class and the parents put their kids to bed earlier. Result all round.

Ps I’m not commenting further on the teaching and behaviour management of  that schools as I’m sure there will be enough comments elsewhere…but please stop going on about work, work, work.

The health of the nation at stake…and chips

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has invited fast food chains and huge food corporations to be involved in developing public health policy. So the soon to be revealed public health white paper will be written by people from KFC, McDonalds and Mars. Brilliant idea! It’s like putting la cosa nostra in charge of policing organised crime and hoping they’ll bring themselves to book. Perhaps our new five a day will be one portion each of chocolate, crisps, chips, cigarettes and coke (either variety).

 Obviously it’s important to liaise with these food giants and to get them on board but do we need the tail wagging the dog? Their interests lie in making money, not the health of the nation.  Sure, these companies might include healthier choices in their ranges but all of them specialise in the stuff that makes us fat, clogs our arteries and send us scuttling up the walls in a sugar rush. We adults can make our own choices but what about children?

 The government may be working on their health policy but they’ve carefully omitted to tell us about the cuts in funding to two really successful programmes that support children’s health at school: the National Healthy Schools Programme (NHSP) and the School Sports Partnership (SSP). 

 The NHSP has been around for over ten years and is jointly funded by the Department of Health and the Department of Education (in its previous guises). Programme coordinators in every local authority support schools in reaching a set of health criteria that include healthy eating, mental health, school sport and curriculum opportunties. Once schools have achieved the criteria and had their work quality assured they are allowed to use the NHSP logo. The NHSP exceeded its targets- which is incredible given that the programme is non statutory- and almost all state maintained schools in England are Healthy Schools (look for the logo at your kids’ school). The next phase of the NHSP was to be getting schools to be more focused on health improvements based on their own community needs. Funding has just been withdrawn and national, regional and local coordinators are being made redundant. The programme remains but will be ‘school led.’

 The same is true of the SSP whose goal was to get all school children doing at least two of hours PE per week. That may not sound like a lot but given the heinous state of state school PE a few years ago and the crammed timetable, it’s been a slog getting to this point. Again, each LA has a coordinator and secondary and primary schools work together in clusters. The range of sports at schools has increased, competition is back on the curriculum and all children- regardless of their ability or inclination- get excellent coaching and teaching.  There has also been funding for sport facilities including all-weather pitches at secondary schools. The funding for school sport has been withdrawn only a year before we host the Olympics. Embarrassing isn’t it.

 I never understood why the previous government didn’t shout about these two programmes from the rooftops. Huge strides have been made in children’s health in schools in the last few years but there is still a long way to go and cutting funding now is ridiculous. We still have problems with obesity, teenage pregnancy, alcohol misuse and gang crime among our young people. Sexual bullying is on a frightening upward trajectory and knife crime is yet to be fully tackled. Yet I haven’t read a word in the national press about either the NHSP or SSP going and I’ve not heard a peep from the government either. Perhaps if we all keep quiet noone will notice.

 So I look forward to the new public health proposals with interest and can’t wait to see how the government intends to tackle our problems before we clog up the NHS even more.

 But in the meantime it’s time for lunch. Now, where’s the nearest government- approved chip shop?

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