14 May 2014

English schools 'neglecting' pupils' health, experts claim

School kids and mum

A report published in the British Medical Journal by six senior academics from leading institution’s including the University of London and Cardiff University, claims that children’s wellbeing, personal development and health was being ignored amid an ever increasing focus on “maximising students’ academic attainment”, which could lead to stress and anxiety, while also pushing some pupils into high risk behaviour like smoking, drug-taking and violence."

PSHE (Personal, social, health and economic education) is an optional subject for state primary and secondary schools. It has sometimes been referred to as “lifestyle lessons” as it aims to provide young people with sex education, an awareness of drugs and alcohol as well as other topics. There appears to be growing evidence that providing young people with good quality PSHE lessons improves overall education attainment. This is can be observed from countries such as Australia, Finland, Singapore and Sweden where they not only place higher importance on overall development and well-being but they achieve better academic attainment than England.

Within their report the researchers noted some recent changes that has caused the lack of PSHE education in England, such as testing children at a younger age, and a reduction in funding.  Professor Chris Bonell commented that schools “spend less and less time teaching it because of pressure to focus on academic subjects.” And Professor Chris Bonell also added "Furthermore, research suggests that “teaching to the test,” which commonly occurs in school systems with a narrow focus on attainment, can harm students’ mental health."

Dr A. Fletcher, a senior lecturer in Social Science and Health said:

“There has been an increase in testing, there has been an increase in depression and anxiety, but it’s impossible to attribute health effects to certain policies… However there is very strong evidence from trials which shows that where schools do introduce a coordinated programme of work, in their curriculum and through a healthier school environment, students’ health does improve – better diet, more physical activity, reduced smoking, reduced bullying – all the key health indicators.”

A spokesman for the Department of Education “Getting a good education is the surest way out of poverty – and poverty is one of the greatest causes of ill-health. It is frankly astonishing that the BMJ should criticise this government for ‘encouraging schools to maximise students’ academic attainment’. That is not something which we will ever apologise for.” But adds “All schools should provide a broad education and have a duty to promote the wellbeing of their pupils. Ofsted last year published a report showing that schools which delivered excellent PSHE classes were more likely to be rated outstanding overall”

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