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Healthy interest

Paula Clough discusses how starting health education early can make a significant, lifelong difference to attitudes towards health

Posted by Hannah Oakman | February 01, 2016 | Sports & Leisure

PE lessons are the best way of ensuring that young pupils understand the benefits of exercise, but with the recent OECD report finding that 18 per cent of UK children are overweight, there is more that needs to be done. Here are a few pointers that we have developed at the Rising Stars comprehensive sports programme.

Get moving early

PE and sport have always been considered an integral part of school life. However, at secondary school level, although some students are excited to get involved with a large variety of sports and activities, there are others who no longer engage – or simply don’t enjoy it. Quite often this is due to insecurities as they go through puberty, embarrassment or peer pressure.

Having started as a secondary-trained PE teacher, I saw a significant difference when moving to teach at primary level. Young children are like sponges: they want to learn, they want to ‘do’ – and the more you can provide them with, the better. If you are able to incorporate a range of different activities, including dance, games and sports, there will always be something for the children to enjoy.

There may be occasions when pupils get embarrassed, or find certain activities difficult: but if they can find someone whom they can work with and who will support them, these challenges won’t seem so insurmountable. After all, they may find some activities difficult, but really excel in others where they themselves can support others!

PE in primary schools is all about building the ABCs: agility, balance and co-ordination. If we build these elements into the curriculum framework, then no matter what they decide to do when they leave school, our children will have a fundamental knowledge of all forms of exercise. Incorporating more unusual elements such as Pilates, yoga and hula hooping will also build their core strength and flexibility, which can be applied to all types of sport and exercise in the future.

Passive parents? Take it home!

Statistics have shown that if a child’s parents have an inactive and unhealthy lifestyle, it will most likely be transferred to the child. At my school, Woodlands Park in Devon, we often set PE-related homework for children, such as throwing and catching a ball ten times or doing the five yoga poses they’ve learned that day with their parents. Getting the children to go home and perform these activities educates parents as well as pupils.

Setting homework related to sporting events (for example, the recent Rugby World Cup) also encourages children to get talking about sport. It makes what they do in PE more real and shows them how their learning can be applied outside the classroom – as well as, once again, helping to engage their parents with the subject.

The Change for Life programme is an excellent example of the drive to encourage parents to be healthier, for the sake of their families. Getting pupils to take this knowledge home encourages them to play a major role in changing attitudes at home. At our school, we taught pupils how to make fruit smoothies – and many children took what they learnt home to show their parents, inspiring them to have a go.

Be your pupils’ champion

Having a positive role model is really beneficial for children in all subjects: and PE is no exception. Girls in particular can struggle with occasional embarrassment or lack of self-belief. If I’m leading a session, I make sure that the children can see me up at the front, being active and breaking a sweat with pride and confidence – which allows them to feel like they can do the same.

We started cheerleading sessions at the school which the girls really engaged with, as they don’t necessarily realise that it’s a physical activity – they just let go and have fun. Again, it’s about finding something that they enjoy, that has a positive effect on them and taps into what makes them feel good.

At primary schools, there aren’t many trained PE teachers and although Government funding is having a positive impact on purchasing sports supplies, the time to plan for PE is often neglected for the sake of prioritising core subjects such as English and maths. We’re very lucky at our school as we have links with 12 other schools, with whom we have regular meetings to share insights and to ensure that PE doesn’t slip off the register.

We also get together for what we call ‘festivals of sport’ to encourage links between the schools, as well as teaching the children about sportsmanship and teamwork. We ran a girls’ football group, through which two girls from Woodlands Park decided to join the local girls’ club. Events like this give them the opportunity to see that ‘I can do this – actually, I’m quite good at it’, which boosts their confidence and, in turn, their enjoyment.

Classroom and beyond

At Woodlands Park, all of our teachers are very positive about the concept of active learning. For example, maths isn’t just about numbers and equations, it’s about going out and measuring or counting things. In our classrooms, the teachers will always try to incorporate a physical element, even if that’s just getting them on their feet and away from their desks to wake them up.

The three elements of a rounded PE curriculum are Sport, Fitness and Health. Often, PE lessons will focus on sport and discuss the fitness element as part of this, but it can be difficult to break down the school timetable enough to dedicate proper time to each element. However, by asking health-related questions within other lessons – such as ‘did you have breakfast today?’ or ‘did you walk to school?’ – teachers can influence children’s daily routines, making them conscious of the decisions they are making in relation to their health.

The most important thing is to ensure that children receive a fully-rounded health education. The UK media has turned its attention to ideas like the ‘sugar tax’ as a potential solution to obesity: but in reality, there are so many factors that need to be addressed. Children should understand the value of health in its entirety, as well as being encouraged to enjoy school sport. Only through a combination of nutritional knowledge and a commitment to regular exercise will we be able to inspire the next generation to combat obesity and other medical issues such as diabetes and high cholesterol levels.

Healthy attitudes should be encouraged across the school and beyond. At primary level, we have the opportunity to give pupils the best start to their young lives. One of the greatest things we can do is to show them the value of their health – and that we, as teachers, value their wellbeing, not only within the boundaries of their time at the school, but throughout their lives.

Paula Clough is PE specialist at Woodlands Park Primary School, Devon – and editor for the Rising Stars Champions programme. To find out more about the latter, visit

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