Jonathan Haslam has produced an article this week asking the question of whether "Can schools be expected to solve the obesity crisis?” Haslam is the Director of the Institute for Effective Education. The IEE is an independent charity promoting the use of evidence in education policy and decision making so it stands to reason that Haslam is well placed to ask the question. Haslam cites the following recently published studies;
A randomised controlled trial of the West Midlands Active Lifestyle and Healthy Eating in School Children (WAVES) intervention.
The trial included 1500 five and six year olds from 54 primary schools and lasted 12 months.
The trial included;
- Increasing moderate to vigorous physical exercise (MVPA) on each school day.
- cooking workshops, when parents were invited to participate.
- a six-week programme to encourage healthy eating and increase physical vitality, delivered by the local professional football club
- Information sheets supporting children and their families to be active over the summer.
Children’s vital obesity stats were tracked at the start of the trial and then again after 15 and 30 months. The results were compared to a control group. The mean difference was completely negligible meaning these interventions were of no use and ultimately unsuccessful.
Now Haslam makes the sound point that primary school children may not have been the appropriate focus group and become less active as they become older so he proposes the test should perhaps have been undertaken with secondary school children.
One study found that exercising after study may help you remember.
The other cited study analyses the impacts of Girls Active a programme developed by the Youth Sport Trust that supplied a framework to schools reviewing their Physical Education offerings to ensure they are relevant to and interesting to adolescent girls focussing on 11-14 year olds.
Twenty secondary schools participated however only ten of which actually received the intervention and the other ten acted as a control. The success of the scheme was primarily measured in MVPA recorded on wrist based accelerometers. Then levels of activity, sedentary time, body mass and psychosocial measures were also recorded. The result of this scheme was successful in larger schools but contrarily smaller schools actually recorded a decrease in MVPA. Haslam noted smaller schools might be distracted by the schemes so much that benefit is lost.
Both of the studies resulted in negative results and Haslam speculates that from this we should perhaps determine that the onus shouldn’t be on the schools to address the obesity crisis. Given the limited resources of schools making the right choice is of course essential however when Haslam uses the above referenced studies to remind schools that investment in addressing positive change toward pupil health and physical literacy might result in no improvement this writer believes his point to be overly conclusive based on limited data and don’t discount the benefit of school wide health improvements.
So what do I mean? Well the first study was of only 1500 children. These kids were five to six year olds. Primary schools admit children from the ages of five through to eleven. The studied group were only just beginning their scholastic journey. Now health officials say nearly four in ten children leaving primary school will be overweight or obese by 2024.
The proportion of children aged ten and eleven who are an unhealthy weight when they leave primary school is predicted to rise by 11 per cent within five years, from 34.3 per cent to 38.1 per cent.
The focus group in this study was not of the older primary school who over time in the school environment have lessened their activity levels, adopted screen time as their favourite past times and decided they are too cool for sport.
In reality older primary school children should see benefit if they have five or six years of adopting good habits driven into them by an established proactive methodology to counteract childhood obesity from the moment they enter the school system.
The second study focused on only ten secondary schools in one region of the country. Within this isolated group the targets were made to focus exclusively on girls of a two year age range. Once again incredibly specific and the range of results from positive to negative almost discount each other making the resulting take-away's diluted at best.
Citing studies of small focus groups and less ‘at-risk’ demographics which then show considerably poor results is unsurprising and not indicative of the potential for physical health improving schemes implemented across the primary and secondary school age ranges establishing a culture of positive health which can have long term positive effects on attitudes to exercise and healthy eating.
Our recent articles demonstrate how schools can have a significant impact on pupil health if they open their facilities up to the communities they serve and modify their in house physical literacy curriculum's and lunch time menus.
In short, this writer believes small isolated trials can often fail but the theory is sound that small healthy changes can add up to big results and long term studies of school wide schemes need to be undertaken to establish how successful en-mass change can be to lowering the childhood obesity problem.
This writer believes we must implement school wide change to see real results to the next generation’s attitude towards personal health, well-being and sedentary behaviour. Our children’s potential lifespans are expected to be 5 years shorter than our own, so obviously real change is required urgently.
One such way to accomplish this is the implementation of standing desks in every classroom. Some schools is the US have gone entirely standing and whilst this may be far off into the future for UK schools hundreds of schools are adopting flexible seating such as our own Eiger student standing desks into their learning spaces and the anecdotal positive physical and mental health benefits being reported are significant.
One study of standing desk classrooms discovered a reduced BMI of 5.24% after just 12 months. Meanwhile standing students are 16% more likely to engage in class as they are more focused and remain on task longer.
Implementing physical literacy with standing desks, BBC super Movers, The Daily Mile and school running clubs such as marathon kids demonstrate an adoption of the school wide method. No one service, scheme or product is a silver bullet but used together in a school wide change will allow you to adapt and mould the next generation’s attitude towards movement and health to divert the course we are currently on.
With genuine effort to effect change we can give the kids their 5 years back and get their faces out of screens and into the fresh air so they become habitually active. Active kids are statistically more likely to become active adults and suffer less disease and ill health.
Only time will tell if we do enough but small changes stack up and doing nothing because sometimes health schemes don’t measure well isn’t going to contribute to the greater good.
Combine your efforts with your pupils, with parents, with your different departments and your local businesses to show your community you are a health positive school by adopting some health-centric ideals. If you want to talk to us about how we can help then get in touch for a try before you buy trial or just to talk through how our desks can work with your existing programs for health.
Protests has sprouted up across the UK against funding cuts for Special Educational Needs support in schools. 28 towns a cities played host to rallies and marches including London, Leeds and Birmingham.
These national rallies are the first of their kind in the UK. One of which was led by Emma Parker whose son James has spent over two years out of school in the last five as a result of sanctions, reduced timetables and exclusions.
An issue we wrote about in our article here is that schools who are underfunded for SEND support typically end up relying on sanctions to address issues they could be tackling in a more proactive manner. A recent report has shown that pupils with special needs are statistically more likely to be expelled and sent to isolation rooms.
“We have thousands of children across the UK who are not in schools, who are on reduced timetables and who don’t have access to the schools that they desperately need,” Parker said.
Her son James Parker delivered a 13,000 signature petition to end the "spending crisis" on SEND in schools.
Emma & James Parker.
Ministers for the Department of Education (DfE) commissioned a review last march and concluded that schools are using expulsions to get rid of students they fear may drag the schools results down and insisted that head teachers take responsibility for students who they have excluded from school.
The Dept. of Education released stats within the last fortnight which explained that SEND students have increased by 11% from last year alone. That’s a whopping 34,200 children that schools have to accommodate with limited funding and training to do so.
The TV presenter Carrie Grant attended and spoke at one of the rally’s describing her experience of attaining support for her four children with special needs as "shocking to say the least"
“The world that they [disabled children] face is a world that is just not ready.” - Grant
Children with special needs and excellent grades are being rejected from attending 6th form colleges with education centres claiming they just do not have the funding to support them. With local Government Association estimates a £500M deficit between what UK schools and education centres need and what they currently receive.
Last year Ali Fiddy, the chief executive of Independent Parental Special Education Advice said
“The system for supporting children and young people with SEND is verging on crisis. Against a backdrop of increasing cuts to local authority budgets, parents are having to deal with poor decision making on the part of local authorities"
Standing Desks Help Schools With SEND Pupils
Hundreds of UK schools are turning to standing desks to help provide stimulating and safe learning environments for kids with ADHD and similar special needs which find them with excessive energy. Schools wishing to trial our Eiger student standing desk can request a try before you buy trial right here.
Ministers have promised an extra £250M towards SEND but campaigners argue this still leaves a huge deficit and a severely unsolved problem.
The Guardian Oct 2018 // Special needs pupils being failed by system 'on verge of crisis'
The Telegraph May 2019 // Schools must be held accountable for results of excluded children
Chronicle Live March 2018 // Meet the autistic 11-year-old boy who the council can't find a school for
Sport England has called for a focus on children’s health after they conducted a world leading 130,000 participant survey into the activity levels of children and young people. The survey is the largest ever of its kind and contains results that detail how 2.3 million children do less than 30 minutes of activity each day.
The chief medical officer recommends at least 60 minutes of exercise a day for young people, the World Health Organisations recommends that at least 3 days a week that activity should be aerobic.
Chief Executive of Sport England Tim Hollingsworth said
“I am calling for a national focus on the health and wellbeing of our nation’s children and for the whole system to be united in delivering change. Our children deserve better and Sport England is determined to play its part,”
“Parents, schools, the sport and leisure industry and government all have a role to play in addressing and increasing childhood activity. This research is the first of its kind anywhere in the world and is a big wake-up call for all of us."
Meanwhile another survey of 2000 parents has demonstrated that mobile phones are edging out bikes, skateboards and roller-blades on children’s Christmas lists. Staggeringly 1 in 10 of the parents admit their children don’t even leave the house for a week at Christmas.
Whilse 3 in 10 youngsters get less than 30 minutes or less of fresh air daily, they get 3 hours of television and two and half hours on iPad, phones and computer games.
Tech is anchoring our children down and too many of them are not doing enough exercise or activity to keep them healthy. The World Cancer Research Fund recently detailed how their report demonstrated a link to 12 major cancers from increased screen time in children.
Jack Shakespeare of UKactive Kids said "movement has stripped out of our children’s lives with 'generation inactive' fed a staple diet of sofa play and screen time...It is vital for the health and happiness of this generation that we find ways to get children active."
Public Health England's head of diet, obesity and physical activity, Dr Alison Tedstone, added: “Physical activity is crucial for good physical and mental health of children and young people - this work is a timely reminder for everyone to do more to help them be more active.”
Nick White, MD of UK Standing Desk Manufacturer iwantastandingdesk.com said "Kids are becoming ever more sedentary and inactive, it makes sense to get them more active in the classroom and create a positive behaviour pattern to take into adulthood...entire schools in the US are becoming all standing with a view to seeding a culture of good health. This can only lead to happier, healthier children."
Given the recent reports that children’s lifespans are estimated to be 5 years shorter due to sedentary habits. The Sport England Survey encouragingly does demonstrate that 3 million children are getting enough activity, exceeding 60 mins a day but the Sports Minister Mims Davies says "the number of young people who are not doing enough is simply unacceptable...we must build a comprehensive and cross Government offer to create a truly active nation."
The biggest takeaway from the survey available here is that children benefit from activity. Their general happiness increases. Their mental health improves and as our recent report detailed they outperform inactive children. We owe it to all our children to raise the bar and get the UK up to speed when it comes to activity at home and in the class room.
Eiger Standing Desk School Trials Are Available Here