At the launch of Healthy Active Schools System (HASS), a new Fit for Sport measurement tool for young children, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson addressed the audience with some unsettling facts.
“We know that half of seven-year-olds fail to meet the recommended 60 minutes of daily activity,” said Tanni, Chair of ukactive. “We also know that if we looked at the least fit child in a 1998 class, they would be amongst the most active of children today. Plus, research shows that one in five children do no sport or physical activity in school each week.”
Unfortunately, these statistics are increasing, and Tanni wants to turn the tide of a generation of inactive young people. She is hoping that with tools like HASS, more schools will be able to give children an active habit that will last a lifetime.
Dean Horridge, Founder of Fit for Sport, shares the same passion and this was the motivation behind HASS. As a father, he was interested in his children being fit, healthy and happy but always found this conversation difficult with teachers.
“When we talk about other subjects, there is measurement and benchmarking, but with physical education there isn’t. I think this is unacceptable and coupled with the current figures about children’s fitness levels in the UK, I realised something had to change,” said Dean. “That is why Fit for Sport set up HASS.”
During the research phase of HASS, Dean and his team also discovered that all schools, whether they were independent or state, had children that needed help with physical activity. Therefore, Dean encourages all schools to take advantage of HASS, as it is free and very simple to use. He also hopes that HASS will help children to stay active outside of school, especially in the school holidays, as this activity can also be entered into the system.
Towards the end of her speech, Tanni also stressed the importance of keeping children active in the school holidays, as she understands the challenge of keeping active habits outside of normal school hours.
“ukactive research shows that 80% of the fitness gained during the school year is lost during the lazy summer holidays,” explained Tanni. “This is a wake-up call for many people. We need to look beyond the school gates to tackle the childhood inactivity epidemic.”
So, a lot must be done in and out of schools, but what can the independent school sector do to help? After the launch, I spoke to Tanni about sport in schools as I was keen to hear her views as a mother, Paralympian and parliamentarian…
How can independent schools benefit from HASS?
I think it comes back to measurement. We measure maths, literacy and science but physical literacy is not measured. I know that the time it takes to measure can be difficult but HASS is a tool which is fun, useful and will have an impact on a child’s development. My daughter goes to Barnard Castle School and she plays a couple of sports seriously so I know how she is doing in those sports, but I would like to know how she is doing in other sports too. I can also see the benefits of measurement with her, as she really likes to know how she is doing. At her school, she might be getting a slightly different measurement to what HASS provides, but I can see the difference it makes and the motivation it provides. Therefore, imagine giving that motivation to young children.
HASS is aimed at four to 11-year-olds, why is measurement important at a young age?
Well, if I could make it even younger I would, as it probably starts at birth. By the time you are at school you are already in a pattern of activity or inactivity so it should start as soon as possible. I have been in this sector a long time and I have read lots of data about the benefits of activity. For example, kids who can throw and catch a ball are the ones to read and write quicker. When my daughter was a baby I would roll a ball to her, and my family would laugh, but it does help!
Why do you think so many children are not active?
The thing that puts children off doing sport is that they worry they aren’t very good, and that can be very exposing. I wasn’t very talented as a junior athlete, but I was an enthusiastic child and I didn’t mind that I wasn’t seen to be talented. Many children struggle with that, so it is important to encourage them from the outset. If you look at the Beijing Olympics, 37% of our medals came from the independent school sector and that’s not because that group of children is more talented, but there is really good-quality teaching at prep school level, and in some instances longer school days to focus on extra-curricular activities.
What is one of your favourite features of HASS?
I think the fact that you can enter after-school data as well as summer holiday data is very important. It is comparable data that hasn’t been available before, and a great way of using the amazing technology we have today.
If independent schools make one change, what should they do?
Measure what the children are doing in sport. It’s really simple, as how can you improve if you don’t measure?