Student health – lessons in balance

The blurring of the lines between the realms of education and health has never seemed smooth. While there is a very clear need for good health and wellbeing to be on the education agenda for children and young people, we cannot, and should not, expect teachers to be able to deal with the intricacies of healthcare being carried out on school premises without sufficient training.

That said, there is much that can be done to educate children, young people and families about healthy lifestyles. And this just might have the effect of raising awareness across the whole school community for teachers and parents alike.

There are several key challenges to student health that many young people are dealing with. Self-harm, eating disorders and depression are all on the rise in teenagers, with some cases, for example, of anorexia, being recorded in children as young as 6.

The government doesn’t fund a healthy schools programme any longer, although it is possible to find the Healthy Schools Toolkit in the national archives. There are also some well supported local programmes such as those run in Leeds and London. These local programmes (there are others!) have some great resources and ideas for implementing health and wellbeing education in your school so it’s well worth finding out what’s going on locally to you.

Ideas for a healthy school

Raising the profile of health and wellbeing in schools needn’t be costly or inordinately time consuming. Some ideas here for starters:

– Getting parents and carers on board is essential. A child’s first encounter with good health and wellbeing happens in the home so achieving parent buy-in can make the difference between success and failure in getting healthy messages across.

– Aim to focus on learning together – children, all staff, and parents – so that you can successfully guard against “preaching” on issues such as diet, which is sensitive for many.

– Outside speakers on health, wellbeing and fitness for the whole family may inspire gentle yet sustainable change for the better.

– Conveying information on spotting the early signs of depression, eating disorders and self-harm will invariably be helpful for parents and carers as well as staff. There is good quality information available online from relevant charities and many will have speakers willing to visit.

– Consider holding a fitness event, such as a 5k run, that the whole school can train for and take part in.

– Look out for research on health and fitness that can be shared with your school’s community. For example, this story in the New York Times on running may be inspiration for some!

– Encourage fitness through daily activities, such as using the stairs instead of taking the lift, walking or cycling to school instead of traveling by car if at all possible, moving more than sitting and so on.

– Create a school day that values academic study as well as rest and relaxation, physical activity and time spent outside, if possible in a natural environment.

Find out more…

– Public Health England carries information on public health protection, health and wellbeing and up to date news on the latest health issues

HealthTalk carries free advice, with accounts of young people’s experiences here and resources for teaching and learning here

– Beat – Beating Eating Disorders has a wealth of information and advice on its website

– The Young Minds website carries great information on child and adolescent mental health and wellbeing

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