Childhood obesity in the UK is at crisis point. Nearly one in twenty year 6 pupils require medical intervention as a result of obesity. One in five children enter primary school already obese and a staggering two out of three end their last primary term obese.
The requirements of schools when covering food and nutrition are quite limited. Despite the knowledge that children who learn to cook early on tend to grow up to eat healthier than those who have not. The guidance for schools is delivered as part of the design and technology aspects of the curriculum and the goals are; Children are required to know "where food comes from" in the first couple of years at primary. At secondary level the teaching should include elements to educate kids on "understanding and applying the principles of a healthy and varied diet." and "prepare and cook a variety of predominantly savoury dishes using a range of cooking techniques."
Despite the secondary school guidance being quite specific very few schools are geared up to teach kids hands on cooking. They lack the resources from equipment, funds for ingredients and a safe learning space for cooking with appropriately trained topic specific educators.
A recent study of 1000 children by Zanussi illustrates how many children are left ignorant of some of the basics. For instance one in three children surveyed struggled to identify that the tuna in a sandwich comes from a fish. Perhaps even more disturbingly one in ten children surveyed believed eggs came from cows.
A scary reflection of the limited time we as a nation spend at home and in school educating our children about the world around them including food and its source.
The survey was produced by Zanussi to promote their new relationship with food writer, Amanda Grant's Cook School. The team have joined together to deliver a pilot scheme which works with primary school kids to teach them the skills they need to create healthy balanced meals.
The sessions can be held in school cafeterias. The session leaders talk to children about different foods they may be unfamiliar with and allow them to get hands on creating foods such as falafel and letting the kids get hands on with sticky, smelly and differently textured ingredients to inspire some retention and enthusiasm for the subject which seems to come easily once the kids get stuck in.
The telegraphs Sally Peck wrote about a session she attended and observed enthusiastic reactions from the kids participating in the sessions.
“It’s like playing with sand!”
“Disgusting... but nice!”
“I feel like I'm on ?Great British Bake Off!”
“I want to be a vegetarian, because I like animals, but I've never tried falafel.”
“I've never had it either, but it smells delicious.”
Grant and Zanussi’s Cook School aims to be available to at least 30 schools and 30,000 children nationwide by the end of next year.
Grant talks about how children emulate each other so it’s healthy to see each other trying new foods and also to foster independence by getting them to make their own meals without an adult to step in and take over.
Grant also came out with another stellar piece of advice for parents of young children suggesting that kids be encouraged to have foods of different colours on their plate for each meal.
“We’re not preaching; we’re equipping them with cheap recipes to make at home; a child learning to grate safely, how to chop garlic, is helpful rather than a hindrance.” - Grant
Cook School is a nationwide, not-for-profit organisation helping children to understand food & teaching children to cook. Children inspiring children. They are going to make a free newsletter available to families and you can sign up to it and learn more about how you could get involved right here.
Chief medical officer says ban snack culture. [Telegraph]
The BBC have produced a short video documenting their interviews with three primary school head teachers who say they feel completely unsupported by the government when it comes to offering mental health support to their pupils.
The BBC say there has been a 50% increase in referrals to mental health services for pupils aged 11 and under in the last 3 years.
"I think the government needs to decide whether they want us to be social workers and mental health workers or educators."
- Sue Blair, Pennine Way Primary School
Staff members at Pennine Way School were said to have cried together over the things they have been told by their pupils with mental health needs. They have seen children who self-harm on the premises by banging their heads against walls.
Freedom of information requests have shown that there have been 191 self-harm incidents within school walls since 2015.
"I find it really abhorrent, there's nothing that we can realistically do, that is going to give the child the help that that child needs."
Clem Coady, Head teacher, Stoneraise School
One in 10 primary school children aged five to 10 has an identifiable mental health condition. In serious cases schools are told to escalate the issues and refer to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) One head teacher explained how they are still waiting for feedback on a child who has serious mental health concerns two full years since the referral.
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists "Services for children have been historically underfunded." One head teacher cites the UK being the 5th most powerful economy in the world and asks why we still under nourish the support for mental health in young people despite those challenges being well on the rise alongside the over-use of handheld devices and reliance on screen time being directly linked with a greater likelihood of children developing depression . (See the research here)
The head teachers are crying out for help and support whilst the government company line says they are "determined to improve mental health support for kids." Stating that 345,000 more children and young people with have access to specialist mental health care by 20232/24.
Meanwhile it's clearly evident that schools are ill equipped to handle the increasing rise in mental health issues emerging in modern society and unless the government does follow through on these promises the issues are only going to become a greater tax on our economy as under supported children become problematic adults with un-tackled issues and mental health problems which have been long standing since primary school.
CAMHS refuses to accept that a child can be considered depressed before they are 7 years old and this in itself means they deflect requests for support when a school flags a pre-7 with said issues. This lack of qualification and rebuttal just isn’t working and it remains to be seen how schools will be affected as if the issues continue to rise at the same speed as the last 3 years.
Standing desks and flexible seating options in the classroom are reported to help children alleviate anxiety, tension and have a tendency to generally improve student mental health.
If you want to try before you buy and trial Eiger Student Standing Desks in your School you can fill in the form on this page and we'll get the ball rolling.
Watch the piece by the BBC you'll no doubt find yourself in agreement that it's time to tackle the white elephant in the classroom.
This week UK media have been reporting on the increasingly visible issue of childhood obesity. Leading figures in sport state “Today’s children are the least active generation ever,” and say that school sport facilities should be kept open all summer, to allow people to access them for sports clubs and activities so they stay active during the summer holidays.
The proposals are designed to re-establish the holidays as a time to get active instead of peak dormancy time when UK kids aren’t getting any exercise.
News reports such as this [and this] shine a light on recent lobbying from fitness leaders to encourage our government to implement real and measurable changes in order to provide more opportunity for sport for our young people.
Nearly 40 percent of all sports facilities sit behind closed gates in schools for the extensive summer holiday period. During this time children become even more inactive and undo about 80% of fitness gains they develop during term time. According to a recent Sport England Survey cited to the government now only 17.5% of children meet the daily recommended exercise quota of 1hr a day and one in five UK school kids are overweight by the time they commence primary school.
The fitness leader group called upon the government to keep the facilities open and have laid out a plan that would need very little funding to implement. (Presumably staffing and maintenance costs only?) as the equipment and playing fields are all there ready to use. The coalition said that for just £7 per child a day 1.2 million school children could benefit.
Healthy active children are statistically more likely to grow up into active healthier adults so the proposals would reduce some of the prophesised future burden on the NHS from the next generation of screen addicted inactive kids and save lives by reducing obesity related disease and mortality rates.
The group’s leader Baroness Grey-Thompson said “It is time for the Government to show its commitment to the next generation by unlocking the school sports facilities lying unused on the doorstep of every neighbourhood.
“We urge the next Prime Minister and Chancellor to support schools to have a powerful impact on the health and wellbeing of children, young people and their families by opening over the summer holidays and engaging families in local, affordable and healthy activity opportunities.
“This is an unmissable opportunity to reshape the summer holiday period, and realise the ambitions of many existing policies aiming to improve child health by encouraging physical activity, tackle childhood obesity and reduce loneliness through improved social cohesion.”
Recent surveys have shown that 30 percent of kids are doing less than 30 mins exercise a day meanwhile ministers have announced a long awaited and seemingly limited action plan to get children doing an hour of exercise a day. The plan does suggest that the government are going to be pressing schools and sports groups to work together to share facilities and keep sport available during evening’s, weekends and holidays.
So are the government going to do what is being asked of them? The language is (as usual) deeply ambiguous. The government has laid plans and come up with a name for the plans but it is doubtful we will see the plans fully realised whilst the money being committed to implement change is considerably minimal.
The proposed “School Sport and Activity Action Plan” met a lukewarm response from the sports sector and came under criticism for being a rehash of the School Sports Partnership which was introduced under the previous Labour government but scrapped by the coalition in 2010.
Criticism has also fallen on ministers for not capitalising on the London 2012 Olympics as it was promised to be a bounding board for a mass uptake in sports culture in order to make us more competitive in future generations whilst reaping the massive societal benefit to being healthier as a nation whilst taking the pressure off the NHS due to reducing illness born from sedentary lifestyles.
Sport leaders including the Youth Sport Trust and The Football Association released said in a joint statement that the Governments School Sport and Activity Action Plan "sets out some encouraging intentions and acknowledges the absolute priority of getting every young person enjoying 60 active minutes every day.
“It is also important that further policy change is brought forward. The success of the plan will ultimately hinge on how it is resourced.”
At a time when schools are considerably underfunded already the government has been asked to make some real changes by pledging to implement to sports coalitions suggestions and they have responded with a named action plan but it remains to be seen if this translates into a commitment of money to make something happen when school budgets are at an all time low. Watch this space.
Friendships were no doubt destroyed yesterday as twitter erupted in tweets for and against the use of SATs in primary schools following Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement of Labours pledge to abolish Primary School formal tests if they were elected.
In front of National Education Union in Liverpool Corbyn delivered the news to loud cheering and whooping. He explained that it would free up schools struggling with funding cuts and full classrooms He also said it would improve teacher recruitment and retention.
Schools are currently ordered by their success on the SATs and this ranking system would be abolished also.
"We need to prepare children for life, not just exams," Said Corbyn
Corbyn claimed they would abolish SATs for 7 and 11 years olds, moving away from standardised testing in place of "the clear principle of understanding the learning needs of every child." The news was received excitedly by the room full of teachers who gave Corbyn a standing ovation.
The National Education Union Joint Secretary supported Corbyn and said he recognised the damage a test-driven system does to children and schools.
Head Teachers also responded positively to the announcement. The Leader of the National HT Association said "everyday teacher assessment and classroom tests" can be used to monitor children's progress.
Obviously as system that holds a school accountable to the results from SATS might be frowned upon by Head Teachers. One head teacher on Twitter referred to SATs as being expected to perform whilst having a gun to your head. Schools Minister Gibbs said he believed abolishing SATS would be a huge step backwards in maths and literacy for UK Kids and would "Undo decades of improvement in children's reading and maths".
"Labour plan to keep parents in the dark.
"They will prevent parents from knowing how good their child's school is at teaching maths, reading and writing," said Mr Gibb.
Here are some of twitters mixed reactions. The general consensus being that SATs do put undue pressure on children at primary age however without them it seems grades and standards slip so some went as far as to propose that the SATs stay but the way in which the data is utilised is the real problem. The ranking tables and the implications to a child’s individual learning journey were all questioned.
The fact that some children are experiencing unnecessary stress as a result of the testing might not be a direct consequence of the testing itself but the manner in which some teachers and schools deliver the SATs internally said one teacher.
Whatever your take on this is certainly has polarised teachers, heads and parents and is obviously a contentious subject. It is this writers opinion that a one size fits all system is unlikely to be best for everyone and a more holistic approach would surely offer an advantage to schools with the resources and training to deliver a more wholesome solution however many teachers are over worked already and adding the pressure of concocting their own individual monitoring methods might be detrimental to the teachers workload and therefore overall quality of their delivery.
We don't have the answers here but it will be interesting to see whether proposed changes pre-election and actual changes are the same if Labour do take power.
There were several useful suggestions from teachers and one which seemed to float to the top was the idea of reducing time restrictions and making the whole experience less stressful as a whole. Surely whether of not primary SATs are abolished these considerations should be addressed.
The Big Brother School System...
Since December 2017 the Chinese education system has been subject to an experiment ripped straight out of the pages of a sci-fi novel. Artificial Intelligence surveillance on students. The image conjured by website Sixthtone.com weaves a disturbing glimpse into the future of education technology as it describes a boys realisation his classroom was being monitored and his facial data captured without his consent.
A pupil in Beijing who for the purposes of the article is known as 'Jason' was surfing the web one day only to stumble upon a social media thread entitled #ThankGodIGraduatedAlready and upon clicking it he was presented with an top down photograph of a typical Chinese classroom setting, the backs of rows of students facing a teacher had been captured by an overhead camera. The image upon inspection had several students heads boxed of with subtitles describing the subject’s level of attention, from focussed, distracted to engaged if they were answering questions. Upon even closer inspection 'Jason' realised the uniforms of the students pictured were that of his own school. This sci-fi drama had quickly become a sci-fi horror as Jason recalled he had never been invited to consent to this surveillance.
In July 2017, China’s highest governmental body, the State Council, released an ambitious policy initiative called the Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan (NGAIDP). This new plan was designed to help turn China into the world’s leading A.I. Power by integrating artificial intelligence into all aspects of life ; Medicine, law, transport, environment and 'intelligent education'
Upon interview the man at the helm of the surveillance systems development explains the culture of Chinese parents is immensely hands on. He's describes in interview how teachers are usually bombarded by parent’s questions requesting information on their child’s progress. “Did my son fall asleep during English class again?” he says, mimicking the questions parents might ask. “Did my daughter and her desk mate talk too much during class? Should we separate them?”
He explains how the devs feel the tech allows schools to send the data to parents and the school through a mobile app and demonstrates an example of a report “For example, this student’s report shows that he rarely volunteers to answer the teacher’s questions in class. So his participation in English class is marked as low. Number of questions answered: one,” Zhang reads from the AI-generated report. “This week, the student spent 94.08 percent of class time focusing. His grade average is 84.64 percent. He spent 4.65 percent of the time writing, which was 10.57 percent lower than the grade average.”
The system is named the "Class Care System" and the developer head Zhang believes it means no child will left behind as the children who receive the most attention in a classroom setting are the naughtiest and the cleverest ones. The average child isn’t getting the same attention and Zhang says the Class Care System will remedy this.
Here is Sixthtones visual breakdown of the system which is quite enlightening and their full article here: https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1003759/camera-above-the-classroom
Zhang says the Children must consent to the surveillance and when asked what the children think of the tech he replied. "They hate it." Some schools within the trial even had students revolting against the monitoring by unplugging the system just before final exams.
Whatever your take on the implementation of tech in the classroom. It's important to ensure that we move forward into this modern era with a mindfulness to considering the potential mental health impacts of going home and be berated by your parents for not answering enough questions in maths that day.
The terms intelligent education and Class Care System are carefully developed terms of propaganda masking a possibly darker reality. Schools in Shenzhen have been collecting biometric data by fingerprinting their students and three and half thousand facial recognition patents were acquired in China alone. A concerning future is barrelling down on us, Whilst we might not quite be on the precipice of a 1984 style Big Brother dystopia one thing is increasingly clear. Tech is integrating into our daily lives inextricably and we have to ensure we remember the importance of going outside, reading from paper not screens and retaining a semblance of individualism and privacy.
“Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively are less free.”
It seems the government is backing up its claims that preventative medicine and mental health are now a priority. Following pressure to vastly improve our country’s safeguarding of vulnerable groups now by September 2020 school children as young as 4 years old will be taught compulsory lessons about the importance of sleep, looking after their own mental health, relationships and going outside. The new lessons will be part of the broader revised curriculum which will also cover for secondary school pupils, the dangers of sexting, spotting anxiety amongst their friends and the importance of staying safe on the internet.
They will be taught about nutrition, staying active and the link between mental and physical health. And that online time shouldn’t replace playing outside.
"So many things about the way people interact have changed, and this new world, seamless between online and offline, can be difficult to navigate...Almost 20 years on from the last time guidance on sex education was updated, there is a lot to catch up on."
"It will help children learn how to look after themselves, physically and mentally.”
Education Secretary Damian Hinds
The is a notable rise in sleep disorders often attributed to night time screen time which has recently been advised against by the UK’s chief medical officers to be curtailed.
Researchers announced in a British Medical Journal study that sleep deprivation is a serious issue likely to cause more impact on a child’s well-being than bullying, physical activity and screen time. You can read about the study here.
In the meantime for teachers who want to get ahead of the game, in January the PSHE published sleep factor lesson plans which are available to download here: The free to download lesson plans teach children to;
• recognise what good quality sleep is and why it is important
• identify habits and routines that promote good quality sleep
• understand how sleep patterns change during adolescence
The new plans for sex and lifestyle based education has however received some criticism and after a 106,000 signatures have been gathered the issue of parents wanting the right to opt out their children will now be debated in parliament next Monday. It is worth noting that Parents will still have the right to withdraw their child up to age 15 although headteachers will be encouraged to discuss with parents the potential negatives of withdrawing their child, so it seems there will be pressure imposed to include your child.
“We believe that these changes are absolutely essential in creating an educated and self-aware generation next. In schools the teaching of physical literacy is malnourished and needs improvement …this is certainly a welcome step in letting children take some ownership through understanding their own health and it's importance.
"I know that Education Secretary Hinds said £6 million would be made available to cover training and resources, hopefully the initiative and the funding allowance will be built upon if the government genuinely expects any sweeping changes in outcomes.
"We work with over a hundred schools on improving their flexible seating options to enhance their pupils development from this we know first hand that even small changes can have a tremendous impact.”
Nick White, Eiger Standing Desks / iwantastandingdesk.com
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Guardian reporter Sally Williams has produced an editorial detailing examples of home-schooling throughout the UK citing statistics from the BBC that show a 40% rise in children being home-schooled since 2014-15. They point out the real number is likely to be even higher given that data is only collected on children who have been removed from school and excludes children who have never registered.
The government currently has no master register for home-schooled children and surprisingly very few restrictions on parents who wish to home-school. Parent/Teachers are not required to have any specific qualifications, don't have to teach the national curriculum, submit their children for national standard testing such as Sats or GCSEs and often allow children to lead their own education by following their own interests.
Many parents are leaning to home-schooling as a solution to their child experiencing issues such as exam stress, bullying or unmet special needs in the standard school environment. One mum in the article explains her thinking;
“School is very oppressive for young people. It’s not natural to be sat at a desk all day, with fluorescent lights, computer screens, barely able to see outside. “
Can schools do anything to counter losing pupils to the growing rise of home-schooling? Anecdotal evidence shows that standing desks in the school environment afford children a greater sense of freedom whilst letting them focus on the work at hand. They help to tackle some the special educational needs many parents feel aren’t being adequately addressed in the school environment.