Sport England survey shows the benefits of regular physical activity

Sport England’s latest survey suggests that, despite lockdown and other restrictions, children have continued to be active in the last year. It also shows the wider benefits of being physically active.

The Active Lives Children and Young People Survey covers children and young people in years 1–11 (ages 5-16) in England in the academic year 201920. It merits careful study.

It suggests that there has been a reduction in activity levels, particularly for children in years 1–6, but the overall picture is perhaps not as bad as feared. Some activities were unavailable because either schools or facilities were closed, or both.

This is reflected in the drops in swimming, team sports and gymnastics, trampolining and cheerleading compared to 12 months ago. Active play and running, athletics or multi-sports also saw a decline in participation.

Active Lives Children and Young People Survey, Academic year 2019–20

However, children have found other ways to stay active:

… more children and young people have been walking, with an increase of 4.3% going for a walk (up by more than 340,000) and an increase of 10.0% walking to get to places (up by more than three-quarters of a million).

Active Lives Children and Young People Survey, Academic year 2019–20

The survey also shows a strong link between children who are physically active and individual development, good mental health, and rates of volunteering and wider community development. It also suggests that young people who engage in sport and physical activity are less likely to feel lonely.

Sport England’s message reflects one of the aims of life-based learning:

Developing children and young people’s physical literacy is essential in creating a positive and lifelong relationship with activity and without it many will not enjoy the health and social benefits associated with living active lives.

Tim Hollingsworth, Chief Executive, Sport England

The Body is one of nine learning themes through which we believe the individual subjects of the UK National Curriculum should be taught, in order to equip children with the knowledge, skills and values to tackle the challenges they will meet as adults.

Its improved learning programme ensures that children meet ambitious targets for daily physical activity and learn healthy habits for life.

The Body

Find out more about the life-based learning Body theme

Sport England Survey

Read the full January 2021 survey produced by Sport England

An Urgent Priority

Why we need a long-term strategy to improve activity levels

Image at the head of this article by MaBraS from Pixabay.

Let’s teach children why they are such quick learners

An excellent newspaper article on adult learning recommends adopting the mindset of a child to help in acquiring new skills. We know that young children are exceptionally quick learners, with an insatiable appetite for new knowledge and skills. But is there an argument for teaching them why they are such good learners?

The journalist and author Tom Vanderbilt has published a Long Read article in The Guardian called The child’s gamble: Why beginners make better learners. It is well worth a look. His description of learning a new skill alongside his daughter (in this case, the game of chess) will doubtless resonate with many parents, and there is plenty for people involved in educating children and young people to reflect on as well.

Vanderbilt is a champion of lifelong learning, highlighting not just the intrinsic benefit of acquiring new skills but also the positive impact on mental acuity and general wellbeing. The trick, he argues, is to think like a child:

Children, in a very real sense, have beginners’ minds, open to wider possibilities. They see the world with fresher eyes, are less burdened with preconception and past experience, and are less guided by what they know to be true.

They are more likely to pick up details that adults might discard as irrelevant. Because they’re less concerned with being wrong or looking foolish, children often ask questions that adults won’t ask.

Tom Vanderbilt, The child’s gamble: Why beginners make better learners

The Forum for Life-Based Learning also focuses on how children learn. We believe that children’s learning will be better if they are taught how the brain itself learns.

Let’s teach children about the role of the senses and sensory uptake, and about different types of memory — short-term, routine, working, operational and long-term.

But there is an important emotional dimension to learning as well. The current National Curriculum turns too many children off learning rather than engaging and motivating young minds and instilling a love of learning.

We need to combine what Vanderbilt refers to as “the spirit of the novice” — the open mind, the willingness to have a go, the courage to fail — with oodles of praise and encouragement. We need to make learning a pleasurable and rewarding experience, not a disagreeable chore.

The Mind is one of the nine life-based learning themes through which we believe the individual subjects of the UK National Curriculum should be taught, in order to equip children with the knowledge, skills and values to tackle the challenges they will meet as adults.

If children know why they are such effective learners, they are more likely to carry that knowledge and that mindset into their adult lives — exactly in the way that Tom Vanderbilt advocates.

The Mind

Find out more about the Mind learning theme

Life-Based Learning

Learn more about what life-based learning involves

An Urgent Priority

Why we need a long-term strategy to improve children’s learning

Image at the head of this article by Anna Ventura from Pixabay

Taking an active interest in nature will transform children’s mental health

One of the undoubted positives to come out of a year of unprecedented difficulties, challenges and misery is the abundance of evidence that an active interest in nature improves mental wellbeing. This needs to be properly reflected in the school curriculum.

Millions of people, their everyday lives and routines suddenly on extended pause, found themselves with plenty of time on their hands — time to look around, go for walks, get stuck into gardening or just nurture some seedlings in a window box. Time, in other words, to interact with and appreciate nature.

In a post in May we highlighted a Royal Horticultural Society poll in Britain that found that 71% of respondents felt that gardens and outdoor spaces had helped them with their mental health during the first Covid lockdown.

In the same week The Guardian reported that people were discovering that “growing plants does wonders”. It referred to a 2018 study which found that gardening produced similar benefits to cognitive behaviour therapy.

The article also quoted Dr Alan Kellas, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists: “There is considerable evidence that 120 minutes’ exposure to nature a week is a key factor in maintaining positive mental health.”

This surely applies as much to children as it does to adults. Our children need to be learning about plants and about nature more generally, including the impact on mental wellbeing. We need to engage children’s interest in direct ways so that learning about the world around us is ‘hands-on’ and experiential.

This might include looking for locally grown produce in supermarkets, linking plants to diet, cookery classes and flower science. All children should also be given experience of growing vegetables in the school garden.

The Merged Action Curriculum, an example of a life-based curriculum, has Plant Life and The Emotions as two of its nine curriculum themes — prioritising an appreciation of nature and mental wellbeing.

Image at the head of this article by congerdesign from Pixabay

History in schools can heal divisions and create a more tolerant society

It is crucial that children learn about what makes British society what it is today and their place in it.

The Guardian reported in October on research from the education charity Teach First, which found that children could complete their GCSEs without having studied a single literary work by a person of colour.

The same article quoted from the ‘lessons learned’ review of the Windrush scandal, which spoke of “the public’s and officials’ poor understanding of Britain’s colonial history, the history of inward and outward migration, and the history of black Britons.”

Black History Month, which runs every October, is now well established in Britain. ‘Themed’ days and weeks (and even months) can play a part in highlighting important issues, raising public awareness and galvanising people into action — provided that the message is not all but forgotten once the occasion is over. On the other hand, if a ‘theme’ is of such importance that it merits its own week or month, it is surely a legitimate question to ask why it is not embedded in the curriculum rather than being an add-on.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, touched on these issues in remarks introducing Ofsted’s 2019–2020 annual report. She spoke of “efforts to commandeer schools and the curriculum in support of worthy social issues and campaigns.” Arguably, neither ‘commandeer’ nor ‘worthy’ are neutral terms in the context of her remarks.

With regards to growing calls for a more diverse curriculum, she posed two questions:

Is it because there is a fundamental issue with the national curriculum that limits exposure to diversity in literature, history, or geography? Or is it because there’s a widely held and justifiable assumption that changing things in school is the key to changing wider social attitudes?

Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools

Life-based learning was first developed as a response to weaknesses in the National Curriculum. Community is one of the nine learning themes of life-based learning. It is an attempt to deal with our lack of social cohesion, with too many young people alienated, lacking a sense of purpose in their lives and contributing little to society in consequence.

At the Forum for Life-Based Learning we believe that the study of history should give children a sense of what makes British society what it is today and their place in it. They should learn that they are part of a country with a rich and vibrant history.

The use of the ‘community’ concept to frame learning in history, social geography and citizenship deepens children’s understanding of — and strengthens their commitment to — society.

You can read more about the community learning theme here.

Image at the top of this post credited to Contraband Collection/Alamy, retrieved from this page on 19 December 2020

Mental health charity: “Rising calls to helpline show need for support”

Young Minds is a children and young people’s mental health charity. Its mission is “to see a world where no young person feels alone with their mental health, and gets the mental health support they need, when they need it, no matter what.”

Young Minds is one of the charities being supported by this year’s Guardian and Observer Christmas appeal. The quote at the top of this post is from The Guardian. Demand for the charity’s services have been higher than ever as a result of the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic. In its recent survey covering the mental health impact of the pandemic, Young Minds said:

“The pandemic has put a huge strain on many young people who were already struggling with their mental health, because of traumatic experiences, social isolation, a loss of routine and a breakdown in formal and informal support.”

Young Minds, Covid-19 autumn 2020 survey

However, problems of mental ill-health long predate Covid-19. Young Minds’ 2018 report A New Era for Young People’s Mental Health Young Minds begins with a stark message: “There is a crisis in mental health support for children and young people.”

Much of the work of Young Minds and other such charities deals with the consequences of mental ill-health. Life-based learning promotes good mental health and emotional wellbeing by raising the profile of emotions education in primary schools.

The aim is to transform mental health and wellbeing. As children grow up with greater self-confidence and stronger self-identity, coupled with a better understanding of the emotional dynamic operating within them, so they will be more emotionally resilient.

Click here to read more about how life-based learning will tackle emotions education as one of nine learning priorities.

Main image courtesy of Design_Miss_C from Pixabay.

“Explosion” of anxiety levels in young people, says report

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

A recent report has found that anxiety among young people has trebled in the last 20 years.

The lead researcher was Professor Nick Freemantle of UCL. The findings were published in September 2020 in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The report highlights a clear generational divide, with anxiety levels rising much more steeply among young people.

Prof Freemantle said: “Given the steep increases in anxiety revealed by this research, and the sheer number of people affected, it is now clear that Britain has a really serious and worsening problem with anxiety, which can have devastating effects on people’s lives.”

Brian Dow, from the charity Rethink Mental Illness, said: “There is clearly a systemic problem in the growth of anxiety and depression amongst younger people. If we are to reverse this trend and prevent a problem becoming a crisis, the social contract we provide to young people has to have a better set of terms and conditions.”

Life-based learning takes the issue of mental health seriously. The Emotions is one of nine life themes, each with equal priority, that form of the framework of a life-based curriculum.

A life-based curriculum will help children to grow up emotionally resilient, able to look after themselves and contribute positively to their communities.


Find out more about the Emotions learning theme, one of nine learning themes that form the framework of a life-based curriculum.

Collapse in wildlife populations caused by human activity

Image by Ylvers from Pixabay

According to the newly published Living Planet Report 2020, wildlife populations are in freefall around the world, and the principal cause is human activity.

It says that, on average, global populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles fell by 68% between 1970 and 2016.

According to the Guardian, the report found that “from the rainforests of central Africa to the Pacific Ocean, nature was being exploited and destroyed by humans on a scale never previously recorded.”

The devastation of wildlife is principally caused by:

  • human overconsumption
  • population growth
  • intensive agriculture

Sir David Attenborough is quoted as saying that this could be the moment we [humans] learn to become stewards of the planet. “Above all,” he says, “it will require a change in perspective.”

Animal life is one of the nine themes that are at the heart of the life-based learning curriculum for children aged 5 to 11.

Life-based learning focuses on the value of animals to humanity and aims to foster in children an interest in the need to preserve animal diversity, protect animal habitats and manage the use of animals in sustainable ways to the mutual benefit of humans and the planet.

Above all, it ensures that children are sensitised to the issues facing animals caused by human use of animals and their environments.

Target to cut childhood obesity in half will be missed

The National Audit Office (Britain’s spending watchdog) has issued a report warning that the government’s target of halving childhood obesity by 2030 is likely to be missed.

As reported in the Guardian newspaper, the report:

  • says that progress has been slow
  • criticises ministers for not delivering on pledges made in recent years
  • warns that more urgency, commitment and cohesion is required

The National Audit Office website states:

In 2018/19, nearly one tenth of 4 to 5 year olds and more than one fifth of 10 to 11 year olds were classified obese. We estimate that roughly 1.4 million children aged from 2 to 15 years old were classified obese in 2018. Not only is obesity increasing for 10 to 11 year olds, it is increasing even faster for children in deprived areas.

National Audit Office childhood obesity report conclusions [as summarised on their website]

We owe it to our children to give them the knowledge and skills they need to grow up leading healthy lives. Life-based learning priorities bodily health. It builds in to the timetable regular physical activity. Children spend time learning about their bodies and how to look after them.

Diversity as a fundamental aim

An interesting letter in today’s Guardian from Simon Gibbs, Professor of Inclusive Educational Psychology and Philosophy at Newcastle University.

His letter was one of three published in response to an article by Melissa Benn, arguing for the ditching of GCSEs as part of a transformation of schools.

… to focus only on exams misses the real point. There is much more at stake.

The heart of what schools do, what teachers do, should not be simply determined by children and young people’s attainment against narrowly defined criteria of knowledge, but about what they could do as citizens of the future. That is more likely to depend on their understanding and respect for each other, and their ability to collaborate rather than compete.

Today’s attention on exam results reiterates a debate founded on competition and individual ranking; with winners and losers, it is an exclusionary debate. What is needed more than ever is a curriculum that enables young people to learn about difference, diversity and civilised society. The main transformation of education should therefore have an aim of promoting inclusion.

Simon Gibbs, Professor of Inclusive Educational Psychology and Philosophy at Newcastle University

I omitted a couple of sentences at the start of the letter. The full text can be read here.

Society is one of the three life areas around which the Merged Action Curriculum is organised. Its focus is on building healthy relationships and stable, inclusive communities.

The Benefits of Plants

Image by Phichit Wongsunthi from Pixabay

More evidence emerges of the health benefits of the Great Outdoors and of our growing love affair with plants.

According to this report, a Royal Horticultural Society poll in Britain found that 71% of respondents feel that gardens and outdoor spaces have helped them with their mental health during the coronavirus emergency.

Meanwhile, this report in The Guardian talks of “a crop-growing revolution that enthusiasts say could transform how we think about nature, food security and our communities.”

Life-based learning promotes an appreciation of the importance of plants and of nature. The Merged Action Curriculum, an example of a life-based curriculum, has Plant Life as one of its nine curriculum themes.