Schools getting fit for the New Year

Research carried out by  the Get Britain Standing campaign has revealed that the average Brit spends a staggering 8.9 hours every day sitting down, be that at work, in a car or on the sofa in front of the TV. Gavin Bradley, director of the organisation, has likened sitting to smoking in the 70s and the passive smoking of the 90s, claiming that, “we all know a sedentary lifestyle is bad for us, we just don’t realise how bad it is. Spending less time sitting down really can add years to your life.”

It seems that everywhere we turn at the moment, a light is being shone on the serious issue of childhood and adult obesity. And what better time to address the issue than at the start of a brand new year. At the top of many of our lists of New Year’s Resolutions is the affirmation to ‘get healthy and be more active’, but encouraging this same enthusiasm and determination among students has traditionally proved more challenging.

Bucking this trend however, is All Saints Secondary School in Dagenham. Daisy Hamilton, head of PE at the school, says that last year, the school reported a significant increase in students’ uptake of physical activities, with 95 per cent of Key Stage 3 pupils attending at least one extracurricular club. Here, she shares her tips for keeping kids enthusiastic about physical education (PE).

There has been ample research to suggest that childhood obesity is a growing concern in the UK, and considering children spend most of the day at school, as teachers, it’s our responsibility to ensure that students are practicing a healthy lifestyle. By providing a balanced and diverse extracurricular programme for all our students, we aim to help each and every one find a sport or activity that they enjoy and want to play. We are working hard to ensure that regardless of their age or physical ability, students are able and willing to participate.

The NHS recommends that young people get 60 minutes of physical activity per day. However, today’s students have very busy lives. With coursework, after school jobs and general teenage drama, finding this spare hour can feel like an unnecessary addition to the day. Nevertheless, schools need to ensure that students still participate in PE. Making sure all your students are present, at the very least, is a great starting point.

From the social interaction you get through sport, to the mood-boosting endorphins released when you exercise:  it is, quite literally, an incredibly healthy way for students to keep fit, and relieve themselves from any stress. By repositioning the attitude of children so that they see exercise as a fundamental part of day-to-day life, we are cultivating their future lifestyle into one which will make them healthier and happier.

Variety and inclusion

It’s useful to introduce pupils to various different roles within sports, and encourage them to try out different positions such as umpiring and coaching. By introducing the roles of coach, organiser or official, every student can engage and participate, without having to  be directly involved in the game every time. In addition, this develops a wider skill set and deeper understanding and purpose of the sport at hand.

But student engagement is not the only factor in a successful PE department; having enthusiastic staff is also hugely important. If staff are willing get involved, it helps to build a school community which has teamwork and supportiveness at its core. In addition, offering various different sports to students is crucial in achieving the highest possible levels of student participation; including everyone is a key objective after all. Providing both recreational and competitive clubs is also a good idea, as students who don’t want to compete against other schools or their peers are still given the opportunity to get active.

And by involving everybody, irrespective of ability, you are generating an environment which fosters both physical activity and inclusivity. As a part of our endeavour to be as all-inclusive as possible, we have been running an SEN club that had the opportunity to go to the Dagenham YMCA to try Boccia (a precision ball sport, related to bowls), boxing, and to use the fitness suite. The SEN club has also received football coaching with Euro Dagenham and Panathalon, where three of our pupils were selected to go through to the next round of the competition representing Barking and Dagenham.

Looking ahead  

After parents, schools are arguably the next largest influence on children, so it is imperative for us as educators to acknowledge our responsibility to cultivate enthusiasm in our students for sport and physical education from an early age. Experts have, quite rightly in my opinion, described sitting as a ticking time bomb of ill health just waiting to explode.

Therefore, by ensuring that a wide variety of activities are available for students of all levels, children can grow to see sport and exercise as a natural part of their daily life, perpetuating better fitness levels and a healthier lifestyle for generations to come.