The square society

Published on Tuesday, 08 May 2012 14:30
Written by Lindsay Graham

Many of us watching the media these days are bombarded with health stats and headline grabbers about obesity. As a society have become obsessed by what we consume and how we look. My concerns are for our next generation, our future workforce currently in our countries education system

They in my humble opinion will be ‘The Square Society’. It’s a phrase I use to describe one of the major influences on our daily lives. The screen, small , large, hi def,3d, touch, multiplex, whiteboard, desk top, laptop and the dreaded TV to name a few of the main offenders. We have become a world ruled by the square screen. You are even reading this article on your screen.

This reality struck me about eight years ago when I visited a state of the art brand new primary school outside Boston in the USA. While touring the school and admiring the jaw dropping health facilities including purpose built school nurse room, a social work/counselling room, physiotherapy, occupational department. Wonderful large, bright dining room and massive gym hall. The numbers of children with medical needs of one sort or another was over 35% of the school population. These varied between asthma, diabetes, allergies, special diets, mobility problems much of which was related to obesity.

The event on the visit that sticks in my mind the most was the schools eagerness to show us their latest initiative to help pupils cut down on TV Screen Time. The principal walked us along the clean white corridors towards the end of the school. I was very excited and half expected to be led outside find either a group of pupil’s hula hooping with their parents or learning from role models about the importance of keeping active. I was stunned into silence when I and my fellow travellers were lead into a darkened room to find forty little eight year olds sitting on the floor watching a twenty minute
TV programme about ‘How not to watch TV!’ I have never forgotten the moment we opened that door and saw all those little faces fixed on that screen. I wanted to weep at the irony of what was taking place.

This week-end I have been following with interest the National Association of Head Teachers conference in Harrogate. It was aptly called ‘Fighting for change Protection our Future’. The minister for Education Michael Gove said he was ‘listening’ to concerns over the new Ofsted framework. Mr Gove I have some concern around the planned new Ofsted framework in England, in particular, the lack of ‘Health and Well-being ‘as a criterion.

Across all four UK regions national policy is in place legislating that school meals have food and nutrition standards. (Although even these are under threat with new Academy status have the ‘choice’ to opt out, please do something about this Mr Gove, Mr Lansley and Ms Tether if you are reading this article.) Millions of pounds, time effort and resource have been poured into improving nutrition and health in UK schools. In England in the last couple of years we have seen the demise of the Healthy Schools programme and networks, the disbanding of National Childhood Obesity team and now we have MacDonald’s and Coca Cola sponsoring the Olympics. I fear for the future of education if we cannot nurture and care for the pupils in schools. Without an emphasis and value placed on health and well-being how can our next generation learn?

With one in three of nine year olds now obese it’s no wonder that Jamie Oliver and Steven Gerrard are united amongst others to get cooking firmly in the curriculum. Good healthy food choices and the ability to cook are essential life skills for all young people who will be the next generation of parents and the countries future work force. We also must add physical and mental well-being to complete the picture. The confidence to be able to choose wisely and assess risk is part and parcel of leading a healthy lifestyle. Enjoying exercise and reaping the rewards that a physical activity can bring to your heart and well-being is something not to be ignored by the policy makers.

So it is with some pride that I look to my homeland Scotland and to the policy, curriculum and inspection process in place in the Schools. It is by no means perfect but it is placing a true value on the well-being of pupils north of the border. The Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) Scotland Act 2007 firmly puts health at the heart of learning. The Curriculum for Excellence has ‘Health and Well-being learning outcomes’ that are monitored as an intrinsic part of school inspections by
Education Scotland. This is what I would love to see in all four of the UK regions. Ofsted please stop thinking about un-announced inspections and start thinking about what schools do over and above attainment. Recognise and celebrate where schools achieve in turning out healthy young people who have the confidence to learn, respect others and behave in a responsible manner which in turn will hopefully make them into contributors to our society. If we are to tackle health inequalities,save billions for the NHS and place value on life skills education then I would propose that our best chance to influence the future starts in our schools.

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