Reimagining education

reimagining education

A year-long education commission, which took evidence from more than 600 experts across fields including business, the arts and education, has recommended major changes to the education system in response to the challenges of the coming decades. Many of the report’s criticisms of the current education system resonate with the critique offered by Life-Based Learning, which is focused on reimagining education and on the idea that we need to be thinking and planning long-term. LBL is an approach to education and development for children and young people in which the life challenges that we all face – now and in the future – become the focus of a fully rounded, life-based approach to learning.

The Times Education Commission was launched in June 2021, “a year-long project expected to inform government policy and to lead to radical change across schools and universities.” It claims to be one of the broadest inquiries into education ever held in Britain and the first to look at the system from early years through to lifelong learning.

A letter signed by former prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair, ten former education secretaries, business leaders, cultural figures and Sir Paul Nurse, the Nobel prizewinning scientist, says:

The commission has highlighted the importance of taking a serious, long-term approach to education, from the early years, through school, to further and higher education and lifelong learning, to better prepare young people for the challenges they face. The changing world of work, stalled social mobility, the growing mental health crisis and new technology means that reform is more important than ever to capitalise on all the country’s talent.

The commission heard that young people would leave education far better prepared if there was more focus on areas such as communication, creativity, problem solving and resilience. The businessperson Sir Charlie Mayfield, now a leading figure in the skills and apprenticeships sector, spoke of the disconnect between the world of education and the world of work:

Standards in education have always been measured by exams, assessments and grades, so it’s not surprising that this has been the focus. However, this is increasingly at the expense of what employers really value … resilience, communication and problem solving. How much time do young people spend developing those skills while studying for the mark scheme?

Sir Charlie Mayfield, quoted in the Times

The commission’s recommendations include:

  • a British Baccalaureate, offering broader academic and vocational qualifications at 18 and less of a focus on exams at 16
  • an ‘electives premium’ for all schools to be spent on activities including drama, music, dance and sport and a National Citizen Service experience for every child, with volunteering and outdoor pursuits expeditions
  • elite technical and vocational sixth forms with close links to industry, and a new focus on creativity and entrepreneurialism in education
  • a significant boost to early years funding – and a library for every primary school
  • wellbeing at the heart of education
  • a 15-year strategy, putting education above short-term party politics

In future blogs we will be looking in more detail at the commission’s report and how its thinking on reimagining education overlaps with Life-Based Learning.

Read More About Reimagining Education

Image at the head of this article by cherylt23 from Pixabay.

A collective approach to obesity

collective approach to obesity

The UK government’s long-awaited food strategy, announced this week, has been widely criticised, including by its own food adviser. It comes in the same week that the charity Diabetes UK announced that the number of children being treated at paediatric diabetes units has risen by more than 50% in five years and that children living in deprived areas are disproportionately affected by diabetes. Other recent research suggests that, if current overweight and obesity trends continue, the number of UK adults who are overweight or obese may reach around 70% of the population. It is surely folly to continue as we are in our approach to obesity. It cannot be left solely – or even primarily – to individual choice and tinkering around the edges of existing policies and approaches. Something more radical than a half-hearted initiative like this food strategy is now required – a collective approach to obesity, led by and including an active, interventionist role for government – if we are going to prevent a public health disaster in the decades to come.

The government’s food strategy and health

The new food strategy repeats ambitious health targets. It says that the government will seek to halve childhood obesity by 2030, reducing the healthy life expectancy (HLE) gap between local areas where it is highest and lowest by 2030, adding 5 years to HLE by 2035 and reducing the proportion of the population living with diet-related illnesses; and to support this, increasing the proportion of healthier food sold.

However, the evidence is stacking up that we are simply failing to meet the obesity challenge: many of the numbers are either improving far too slowly or actually heading in the wrong direction. Take recent research from the charity Cancer Research UK, suggesting that more than 21 million UK adults will be obese by 2040, 36% of the UK adult population (36%) and that, if current overweight and obesity trends continue, the number of UK adults who are overweight or obese may reach around 70% of the population – 42 million people

The food strategy acknowledges that “poor diet has led to a growing problem of obesity, particularly among children.” It also says that “there is more that must be done in future with government and industry working in partnership on a shared endeavour to promote healthier diets.”

However, many critics argue that the government is simply not ambitious enough in its approach. Henry Dimbleby, who is the government’s food adviser and who published a National Food Strategy in 2020, said that the new policy document is not detailed enough to be called a strategy: “It doesn’t set out a clear vision as to why we have the problems we have now and it doesn’t set out what needs to be done.”

Some of Dimbleby’s recommendations that are particularly applicable to children have been ignored or watered down in the food strategy. For example:

  • Dimbleby called for a significant expansion of the free school meals scheme so that around 1.5 million more children would be eligible
  • Dimbleby recommended a sugar and salt tax to fund healthy food options for those in poverty

The government has already announced that it is delaying the implementation of measures to tackle unhealthy eating.

A collective approach to obesity

Some critics argue that the government is failing to act decisively for ideological reasons – the belief that it is not acceptable – and indeed a denial of our basic freedoms – for government to ‘interfere’ in people’s lives by instructing them on things like what they can and cannot eat. Those sympathetic to this view often refer to ‘the nanny state’ in this context. For them, individual choice must be at the heart of any obesity strategy.

The question is: is it enough? Sir Michael Marmot, a leading authority on public health, is one of those who has called for the government to play a more interventionist role, echoing a point made by Dimbleby in his National Food Strategy:

We’re agreed the government has an important role in health. There is an important debate as to where it starts and stops, and people will put the dividing line between government action and individual responsibility in different places.

None of us wants the government telling us what we have for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but we’re all pretty pleased that we can check into a hotel room or send our children to a school and know there is no asbestos. We want the government to do that. We’re pretty pleased when we turn on the tap and the water is drinkable. We don’t want to have to contact a helpline first.

But if we are all making individual choices, how come obesity rates are rising? Is each of us making the individual choice to be overweight or obese?

When you see a societal trend like that and say the government shouldn’t get in the way because people are making their individual choices, my guess is that if you asked people, would you like to get diabetes, or heart disease, to increase your risk of cancer by a third, they would say, no, of course not. People aren’t putting on weight because they want to.

Sir Michael Marmot, quoted in The Guardian

The food strategy and schools

The new food strategy also repeats promises made in the government’s recent levelling-up white paper about food and healthy eating in schools. As we have already suggested, talk of sparking a “school cooking revolution” and a “healthier food culture” sounds exciting; food information posted on school websites and an aspiration for every school-leaver to be able to cook six healthy recipes less so.

Overall, there is a lack of vision and ambition:

This (ie £5 million to deliver a school cooking revolution) includes developing brand new materials for the curriculum and finding opportunities for children and young people to better understand sustainable food and its connection to nature. We will support teachers and school leadership, recognising their crucial role in teaching the value of healthy and sustainable diets, and we will consider insights from Ofsted’s forthcoming research review into design and technology to support the teaching of cooking and nutrition.

from the government’s new food strategy

Life-Based Learning and reimagining how we tackle obesity

We have consistently argued that, as a society, we need to rethink how we tackle obesity. We cannot go on as we are. Life-Based Learning is about reimagining education so that we focus on the massive life challenges we face.

Tackling obesity – and promoting children’s physical health and wellbeing more generally – is one such challenge. As the various statistics highlighted above (and many, many others) demonstrate, we cannot continue as we are. Something more ambitious and radical is required.

Education is important so that people have the knowledge and skills to make informed individual choices around healthy lifestyles – what to eat, whether to exercise and so on. But it also needs a collective effort, with government driving forward significant changes in how we educate our children and young people. We need to rethink. We need to change our common frame of reference so that healthy lifestyles become an urgent priority.

Read More About Tackling Obesity

Image at the head of this article by Pintera Studio from Pixabay.

Promoting community education

community education

A lockdown opinion poll found that 73% of people would like society to be more connected in the future; they wanted “a new, country-wide moment that celebrates communities and what we have in common.” Some of that spirit of community was shown during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, in which an astonishing 17 million people took an active role. The words ‘community’ or ‘communities’ appear hundreds of times in the UK government’s recent levelling-up white paper, as well as phrases like ‘social capital’ and ‘community covenants’. We can all agree about the importance of a sense of community and belonging and the many benefits it brings with it. Take the practice of ‘social prescribing’, increasingly used to support health and wellbeing. But we need to nurture that sense of community; we cannot just assume that it will always be there. That’s why community education matters, teaching children and young people about community, teaching them with the support of the local community, and teaching them to become active participants in community life.

Social prescribing shows the value of community

Our recent blog Building stronger communities described valuing, protecting and strengthening our communities as one of the urgent life challenges we face.

The increasingly popular practice of social prescribing shows the value and importance of community. The NHS describes social prescribing as a key component of universal personalised care, the central concept underpinning its current Long Term Plan.

The National Academy for Social Prescribing is a UK organisation dedicated to using the power of community – “across the arts, health, sports, leisure, and the natural environment, alongside other aspects of our lives” – to promote health and wellbeing at a national and local level.

Social prescribing links to a range of activities that are typically provided by voluntary and community sector organisations, for example, volunteering, arts activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and a range of sports.

from the website of the National Academy for Social Prescribing

Community education in schools

Back in the early 1980s this author ‘did’ a subject at school called ‘community studies’. It was very obviously regarded by teachers and by us pupils as merely a timetable filler, a lesson a week to tick boxes covering content that we now call citizenship education. Life-Based Learning (LBL) would massively raise the profile of community education by treating it as one of nine equal themes through which all subject learning can be delivered, at least for younger children.

Take history, for example. We have written before about history as key for building strong, vibrant and closely knit communities. History gives us an understanding of people, events and developments in past times and how they have shaped the present. Taught sensitively, history promotes community cohesion. It is through history that children develop an increased sense of identity and belonging, an understanding that they are part of something that is bigger than their close circle of family and immediate neighbours.

Meanwhile, political literacy is a prime example of the limitations of the subject-based approach to learning, which relegates everything that isn’t a recognised ‘subject’ to second-tier status, regardless of how important it might be. And yet, a cohesive society, founded on strong communities, needs people to be politically literate and actively engaged as citizens.

So we need to be teaching the key elements of political literacy. That includes:

  • showing children how to get involved and become active participants in their community and/or civil society more generally, and encouraging them to do so
  • promoting a culture of shared values based on tolerance, mutual respect and non-violence
  • teaching children about their rights and their responsibilities

Education through the community

But we can also promote communities by doing much more than just learning about communities and promoting community values. We can strengthen the link between schools and communities, learning about the value of community through direct community involvement in education.

Life-Based Learning means being much more ambitious in how we involve the community in the education of children. Our communities are a priceless educational resource, a vast fund of local expertise, talent and enthusiasm. At the core of Life-Based Learning is a vision of much greater community involvement not just in general school life but in helping deliver parts of the curriculum, further reinforcing the two-way bond of support between school and community and helping to enhance and enrich children’s learning.

And why in the end does this all matter? Michael Mac, the originator of Life-Based Learning, has written:

Stronger community-focused shared action across a range of issues will make the difference into the future, whether that issue is tackling climate change, people getting on with each other in more positive and productive ways, or neighbours looking out for each other, especially to support the isolated and the lonely.

Read More About Community Participation

The image at the head of this article is by banathemobile0 from Pixabay.

Building stronger communities

Something like 17 million people in the UK took an active part in the recent Platinum Jubilee celebrations, according to the Together coalition, the organisation behind the Thank You Day campaign, who say their aim is “to build kinder, closer and more connected communities by bringing people together and bridging divides.” Regardless of our personal views on the jubilee celebrations and the UK monarchy more generally – an issue of obviously limited relevance in large parts of the world – we can all surely agree on the importance of strong communities. That’s why building stronger communities is one of the urgent life challenges we face. Raising the profile of community education is key to Life-Based Learning so that children and young people have the knowledge, skills and values that enable them to play a positive role throughout their lives in the communities of which they are part.

Polling carried out for the Together coalition suggests that 4.7 million people helped organise a jubilee event, about 8.7 million attended a Thank You Day event and 3.3 million helped to organise one. The Together coalition was co-founded by Brendan Cox, husband of the politician Jo Cox, who was murdered while out campaigning in 2016.

In their mission statement the Together coalition say:

We want to see a society where people are connected with their community and feel a part of it. Ones in which increased contact builds deeper relationships and enhanced understanding, especially of those we previously saw as different. Ones where connecting ideas, events and institutions underpin our communities and help us tackle loneliness and prejudice. Where our increased connections improve our well-being, our health and our social capital. And where our communities are equipped to face the challenges that lie ahead.

from the website of the Together coalition

The Jo Cox Foundation was established following Jo’s death. Its aim is to build a positive legacy for Jo by championing the issues that she cared about. Initiatives and campaigns run by the foundation include:

  • the Great Get Together
  • the More in Common network
  • tackling loneliness
  • promoting civility in politics
  • a fairer world

Life-Based Learning and building stronger communities

The future of our communities depends to a large extent on today’s young people and on the generations that follow. That’s why community education matters. Any long-term strategy for building stronger communities must involve looking at what we are teaching children in school. Life-Based Learning (LBL) would raise the profile of community by treating it as one of nine equal themes through which all subject learning can be delivered.

Life-Based Learning aims to organise learning around the modern-day challenges we face. The themes of Relationships and Community sit within a broader category called Society: crucial to human life and living is the ability to relate to — and interact positively with — others, be it family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues or wider society.

Read More About Community

The image at the head of this article is taken from this page of the BBC website.

A health challenge we cannot afford to ignore

Obesity health challenge

New research suggests that around 7 in 10 people in the UK – 42 million people – could be overweight by 2040. The shocking figures, from Cancer Research UK, were published in May, just after the decision by the UK government to delay implementation of key aspects of its obesity strategy. In blogs such as Rethinking how we tackle obesity we have argued that we cannot simply carry on as we are when it comes to physical health and wellbeing. This analysis provides further compelling evidence that obesity is a health challenge we cannot afford to ignore or tackle in a half-hearted way.

What the research suggests

The research published by Cancer Research UK suggests that:

  • more than 21 million UK adults will be obese by 2040, 36% of the UK adult population (36%).
  • if current overweight and obesity trends continue, the number of UK adults who are overweight or obese may reach around 70% of the population – 42 million people
  • the number of people who are obese could overtake the number who are a healthy weight in the UK by 2040 – and in England by 2030

According to the cancer charity, obesity increases the risk of at least 13 different types of cancer, and around 22,800 cases of cancer in the UK each year are due to being overweight or obese.

These projections should serve as a wake-up call to the government about the state of our nation’s health. Ministers mustn’t keep kicking the can down the road when it comes to tackling the obesity crisis – delaying measures that will lead to healthier food options. I urge them to revisit this decision and take bold action on obesity, the second biggest preventable risk factor for cancer in the UK.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK

Campaigning for change

There are, of course, many individuals and organisations campaigning for a change in our approach to healthy living, sustainability, food and diet.

Sustain is one such organisation. It describes itself as “a powerful alliance of organisations and communities working together for a better system of food, farming and fishing, and cultivating the movement for change.”

It was one of many voices critical of what it called the government’s U-turn on childhood obesity in May, which involves delaying the introduction of “vital measures” such as a 9pm watershed and online ban on junk food adverts, as well as restrictions on junk food multi-buys that make families spend and consume more. Its Children’s Food Campaign includes a call for better-quality food and improved food teaching for children in schools.

School Food Matters is another organisation campaigning for change.

It is a highly vocal advocate not just for children’s access to healthy, sustainable food during their time at school but also for better food education. It began as a grassroots campaign by a London parent in 2007, shocked by the school food offered to her children.

We run fully funded food education programmes for children, young people and teachers to ensure every child understands the impact of the food they eat on their health and the environment, and has the food skills to live a healthy life

from the School Food Matters website

Life-Based Learning and the obesity challenge

Life-Based Learning is an approach to education and development for children and young people in which the life challenges that we all face become the focus of a fully rounded, life-based approach to learning. Tackling obesity – and promoting children’s physical health and wellbeing more generally – is one such challenge.

Life-Based Learning priorities children’s physical and mental wellbeing. This includes opportunities for regular sport and physical activity, and an emphasis on food education and healthy eating.

Read More About Healthy Eating

Image at the head of this article by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay.

Meeting the challenges

Meeting the challenges

In June 2021 the so-called schools catch-up tsar, Sir Kevan Collins, resigned after saying that government funding for his long-term plan to help pupils make up for lost learning during the Covid pandemic fell “far short” of what was needed. The recovery plan is on a long – and ever-growing – list of urgent priorities that the government is under immense pressure to tackle. Here’s another: a recent warning that soaring food inflation will force schools to cut meal sizes or the quality of ingredients – or both – at a time when heads are saying that more and more children are turning up for school hungry. To govern, it was once said, is to choose. Politicians – and the country at large – have a stark choice. To look to make savings. Deprioritise. Part-fund. Trim. Apply sticking plasters. Or (borrowing a more recent politician’s phrase), to do whatever it takes, meeting the challenges we face by ensuring that our children and young people get the best possible start in life – an education for life.

Life-Based Learning is predicated on the idea that we need to be thinking and planning long-term. LBL is an approach to education and development for children and young people in which the life challenges that we all face – now and in the future – become the focus of a fully rounded, life-based approach to learning.

The funding problem

Obesity is one such challenge. Current obesity statistics and future projections are alarming. We need to be prepared to invest properly in tackling obesity and in promoting children’s health and wellbeing more generally.

But the signs are not good.

Swim England, for example, have warned of the widespread closure of swimming pools – already under threat – because of rising energy prices. We need our swimming pools to be open, cheap to use and easily accessible – for children and for adults.

Meanwhile, Play England published research recently showing that at least 21 adventure playgrounds have been lost across England – roughly 15% of the total – in the last five years. Many more have suffered severe cuts in funding. Adventure playgrounds are all about activity. They provide stimulating experiences for children and families above and beyond what is offered by traditional ‘static’ playgrounds, not least the chance to interact with nature, something widely recognised as being good for mental wellbeing. They also help children learn to assess and manage risk.

We have written previously that “the short-term need to save money is trumping important long-term, child-focused priorities.”

Literacy is another huge challenge. In our blog Literacy and creativity go hand in hand we wrote that too many children “find writing a chore and never read for pleasure. Our goal should be to make reading and writing fun, to see literacy as a way of enabling each child to express themselves imaginatively and igniting their creative spark.”

And yet a 2021 report published by the National Literacy Trust charity said that a quarter of disadvantaged primary schools in England do not have a library and that four in ten primary schools do not have a dedicated library budget. The report also pointed out that it is not even a legal requirement for schools to have a library. Quite astonishing.

Free-to-use, generously stocked school and public libraries are essential if we are serious about developing reading, writing and oracy in children, young people and adults.

The political problem

Funding is one – massive – problem. Political will is another. The government has recently delayed implementing key elements of its obesity strategy aimed at discouraging people from buying unhealthy food and drinks. Some critics say that the government is backtracking on its obesity commitments in the face of political pressures.

Speaking on the BBC News Channel Lord Bethell, a former Conservative health minister, said:

If the government doesn’t see through these relatively straightforward measures … I worry its commitment to health disparities, to the ten-year cancer programme, to the five more years of healthy life longevity commitment, to our whole commitment to making Britain healthier.

Lord Bethell, speaking on the BBC News Channel

Here’s another example. All the main political parties are committed to sustainability and dealing with climate change. But, discussing the sorts of lifestyle changes that a move to sustainable living would entail, we wrote that:

changes, however well-intentioned, that cost individuals and families a lot of money and/or lead to significant inconvenience and disruption to their lives are going to be opposed and resisted by many and are almost certain to be politically extremely difficult to implement. It is, in short, a massive political headache for those in power – how to get people to change their behaviour.

Persuading people to live more sustainably is not going to be easy

Life-Based Learning: meeting the challenges we face

The current economic outlook is dire: the public finances are severely stretched and – with inflation approaching 10% at time of writing – we face a cost of living crisis. But that cannot be a reason to avoid making the urgent changes that are needed to meet the challenges we face and ensure that children and young people get the best possible start in life – an education for life.

If we don’t do it now, when will we?

Our LBL blogs are packed with evidence of the urgent need for change in children’s learning from early age through to adulthood. We focus particularly on issues that urgently need addressing. We feature individuals and organisations crying out for children’s learning to be brought up to date with the rapidly changing world and the increasingly uncertain times that are the hallmark of life in the twenty-first century. We also highlight examples of outstanding practice — people and organisations who are making a difference and who offer information and resources useful to anyone with an interest in children and young people’s education and development.

Recent Blogs

Image at the head of this article by andreas160578 from Pixabay.

Literacy and creativity go hand in hand

Literacy and creativity go hand in hand

The acclaimed author and former children’s laureate Michael Morpurgo says that teaching children to love writing is more important than learning about grammar. Morpurgo’s latest intervention – headlined Let’s not suck the joy out of writing in the print edition of the Guardian – comes a few weeks after publication of the government’s education white paper which set a target of 90% of children leaving primary school reaching the expected standards in reading, writing and maths by 2030 (the figure in 2019 was 65%). Critics worry that an obsession with teaching the ‘mechanics’ of language takes all the enjoyment out of reading and writing and stifles children’s creativity. Too many children find writing a chore and never read for pleasure. Our goal should be to make reading and writing fun, to see literacy as a way of enabling each child to express themselves imaginatively and igniting their creative spark.

In his Guardian article Morpurgo, who was children’s laureate between 2003 and 2005, writes that the “Michael Gove era” – a reference to reforms introduced when Gove was education secretary, including a phonics-first approach to teaching reading – “seems to me to restrict and inhibit, rather than to encourage creativity.”

He quotes research findings that an emphasis on grammar in primary school does not improve six- and seven-year-old children’s writing.

And he remembers back to his time as a primary school teacher in the 1970s:

I was able to concentrate on encouraging children to find their own voices. That is what literacy is for – to express your thoughts, to discover the music in language, the joy of reading, and all the interest, knowledge and understanding we can gain through that. It is not the analysis of a sentence – that comes later.

Michael Morpurgo, writing in the Guardian

Why literacy matters

In our blog Igniting children’s creative spark and promoting literacy we wrote:

Writing isn’t just functional — an essential skill that we need to fill out forms and text our friends. Nor do we just need to know the ‘rules’ of writing so that we can communicate accurately with others without being misunderstood. Good writing is a thing of beauty, capable of engaging and inspiring both reader and writer. It is empowering, allowing us to articulate ideas, express emotions or create whole worlds of the imagination.

In our blog Why we must do more to promote reading for pleasure we wrote:

Proficiency in writing, oracy, numeracy and especially in reading is perhaps more important than ever in this digital age. Put simply, reading transforms lives — for people of all ages. The benefits of reading are incalculable. It increases educational attainment. It broadens horizons. It promotes tolerance and understanding across cultures. It develops creativity and the imagination. It boosts mental health and wellbeing. The list is endless.

Literacy is also good for mental health. In 2018 the National Literacy Trust published research exploring the link between reading, writing and mental wellbeing. It found that:

  • children who are the most engaged with literacy have better mental wellbeing than their peers who are the least engaged
  • children with above expected reading skills are three times more likely to have high levels of mental wellbeing than their peers with below expected reading skills
  • as children transition from primary to secondary school, their levels of literacy engagement and mental wellbeing both begin and continue to decline

Life-Based Learning and promoting literacy

Developing children and young people’s reading, writing and oracy — a prerequisite of which is the provision for all of free-to-use, generously stocked libraries — is fundamental to their personal development, to their full self-realisation as an individual, and to their role as a member of their community and wider society. In short, learning to read, write and communicate effectively and to interact and engage with others are key life skills.

We need to build on children’s natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge to promote reading for pleasure. As a nation, we simply don’t read enough — despite the many undisputed benefits that reading brings. Nor do we do enough to make it easy and fun for our children to read. We need to give them every encouragement to develop the habit of reading for pleasure so that they carry a love of reading with them into adulthood.

And – perhaps hardest of all – we need to find ways to instil in our children and young people a love of writing.

Read More About Literacy

Image at the head of this article by Chhumvichhouk Rounh from Pixabay.

Adventurous play is good for children’s mental health

adventurous play

Life-Based Learning has consistently championed the importance of adventurous play for children. It has many benefits, not the least of which is helping children learn to assess and manage risk. Now an academic study has demonstrated the benefits of ‘risky play’ for children’s mental health too. It found that children who spend more time engaged in adventurous play involving an element of risk have fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also found that the effect is more pronounced in children from lower-income families.

What the study shows

The study, called Child’s play: Examining the association between time spent playing and child mental health, set out to test the theory that adventurous play helps build resilience in children and protect their mental health.

It defines adventurous play – things like climbing trees, riding bikes, jumping from high surfaces, or playing out of adult sight – as “child-led play where children experience subjective feelings of excitement, thrill and fear; often in the context of age-appropriate risk-taking.” It also notes that, despite the importance of play for children’s development and wellbeing, opportunities for play – particularly outdoor, independent, adventurous play – have been declining over recent decades.

We’re more concerned than ever about children’s mental health, and our findings highlight that we might be able to help protect children’s mental health by ensuring they have plentiful opportunities for adventurous play.

This is really positive because play is free, instinctive and rewarding for children, available to everyone, and doesn’t require special skills. We now urgently need to invest in and protect natural spaces, well-designed parks and adventure playgrounds, to support the mental health of our children.

Helen Dodd, professor of child psychology at the University of Exeter, quoted in the Guardian

Developing emotional resilience is another key element of Life-Based Learning. In blogs such as Children’s mental health services in crisis we have discussed the need not just to fund existing mental health services properly but also to rethink how we support children’s mental health and wellbeing.

Life-Based Learning and adventurous play

Life-Based Learning emphasises the importance of daily physical activity, of playing sports and games, and of outdoor learning more generally. A life-based approach to children’s education and development must also involve regular, high-quality opportunities for play. Play is fun but it also brings with it huge benefits in terms of children’s development – intellectual, emotional, social and physical. This new study shows the importance of play for children’s mental health and resilience. Play also develops self-awareness and social interaction skills, as well as promoting key life skills such as creativity and problem solving.

Sadly, opportunities for children to learn and develop through play are in decline. It is important that schools and communities ­– and those in positions of power, of course – address this, ensuring that there is quality play provision so that all children are able to enjoy and learn through play – including adventurous play.

Read More About Adventurous Play

Image at the head of this article by Bente Jønsson from Pixabay.

Delays on healthy eating

healthy eating

The UK government has been heavily criticised this week for its decision to delay implementing key elements of its obesity strategy aimed at discouraging people from buying unhealthy food and drinks. The government says that the delay is to allow time to assess the impact of the planned changes on the cost of living crisis. Critics, however, say that it is wrong to delay and that the government is backtracking on its obesity commitments in the face of political pressures. William Hague, former Conservative Party leader, has called it “morally reprehensible”. We cannot continue as we are in our approach to obesity. The evidence is stacking up that we are failing to meet the obesity challenge, potentially resulting in a massive public health crisis in the future. Food education and healthy eating must be at the heart of any long-term obesity strategy.

Delaying healthy eating initiatives

The government has announced that it is postponing two elements of its obesity strategy that discourage the eating of unhealthy food:

  • A ban on ‘buy one get one free’ (Bogof) deals for food and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar
  • Restrictions on TV advertising of junk food before 9pm and online adverts

Restrictions on where stores can display food high in sugar or fat will still go ahead as previously announced.

Lord Hague, writing in the Times, said that the government’s anti-obesity drive “will probably join the 14 strategies and 689 different policies over the past 30 years, according to a Cambridge University study, that have failed to deliver.”

Critics of the decision, including Hague, point out that the government’s cost of living argument is a bogus one because Bogof deals do not actually make food cheaper: they simply encourage people to buy more than they need. And Henry Dimbleby, author of the National Food Strategy, said that an advertising ban would actually help reduce the cost of food because 75% of food companies’ marketing spend currently goes on junk food.

Many critics also suggest that the government is not willing to implement the obesity strategy in full because they are worried about a backlash from the electorate, from vested interests in the food industry, or from some of their own back backbenchers.

Referring to those who want to dilute the obesity strategy, Lord Hague wrote: “They are acquiescing in a future of higher dependence, greater costs, reduced lifestyle choice and endless pain. For the government to give in to them is intellectually shallow, politically weak and morally reprehensible.”

Henry Dimbleby said that the two measures were a move in the right direction on obesity:

My concern is, given that the problem is only getting worse, it seems an odd thing to be doing to be delaying measures that would begin to assuage some of the real horrors of the situation.

Henry Dimbleby, quoted on the Today programme on Radio 4, 16 May 2022

National Food Strategy

Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy was published in July 2021. Two of its four main objectives were:

  • breaking what he called the junk-food cycle
  • creating a long-term shift in the UK food culture

It made the scale and urgency of the problem clear and highlighted the need to put children’s education at the heart of a national food and anti-obesity strategy:

Children’s diets are not good enough. Childhood obesity rates more than double during primary school. On average, children of primary and secondary school age eat less than half of the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and no age group or income quintile meets the recommendation. The shortfall is worst in teenagers. This is not only a problem in childhood but also leads to long-term issues: a childhood diet low in fruits and vegetables is linked to increased cardiovascular risk in adults. Good nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight in childhood help prevent obesity and diet-related ill health later in life.

from the National Food Strategy

Life-Based Learning and healthy eating

We have consistently argued that, as a society, we need to rethink how we tackle obesity. We cannot go on as we are.

Life-Based Learning is an approach to education and development for children and young people in which the life challenges that we all face – now and in the future – become the focus of a fully rounded, life-based approach to learning. Tackling obesity – and promoting children’s physical health and wellbeing more generally – is one such challenge.

In blogs such as Ready Steady Cook! Empowering children to eat healthily we have argued that food education and healthy eating must also be at the heart of any long-term strategy for improving physical health and wellbeing.

Read More About Healthy Eating

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

We need to keep children active

More evidence has been published suggesting that children are not as physically active as they need to be and that their activity levels are actually falling over time. Covid has been a factor, of course: the new University of Bristol study indicates that children have been less active since Covid restrictions were eased. However, an earlier, pre-pandemic Bristol study found that there is a dramatic drop in children’s physical activity levels between the ages of six and 11. Meanwhile, the latest Active Lives survey from Sport England suggested that more than 12 million adults are currently inactive and that the overall figures “hide stark inequalities”. The evidence is stacking up that we are failing to meet the obesity challenge, potentially leading to a massive public health crisis in the future. We need to do much more to keep children active.

What the research shows

The newly published Bristol study – which involved children wearing accelerometers to measure the intensity of physical activity – found that by the end of 2021 less than a third of children were meeting the recommended guidelines of 60 minutes of physical activity daily and that levels of physical activity have fallen since the pandemic. For example, children aged between 10 and 11 were doing eight minutes less activity than before 2021.

The study also found that children were less active at the weekend than during the week and that there was a significant increase in sedentary time, with children spending 25 minutes longer being sedentary per day than previously during the week.

An earlier, pre-pandemic study by the university found that between the ages of six and 11 children lose on average more than an hour of exercise in the week, with an even greater fall on weekends.

Professor Russ Jago, who led the earlier (2019) study, said at the time:

Evaluating patterns of physical activity across childhood is an important way to identify key ages in which to intervene to change behaviour – and establish healthy habits for life.   

These numbers prove that more needs be done to ensure children keep active as they approach adolescence. This isn’t about getting children to exercise more, but rather maintaining their activity levels.

Developing early intervention strategies that help children retain activity levels could include after-school physical activity programmes, focusing on participation and enjoyment in addition to popular sports – and a greater emphasis on promoting weekend activities.

Professor Russ Jago, quoted here

Sadly, we have reached a position where – with respect to Professor Jago – it is now about doing more to ensure we keep children active.

Life-Based Learning

Tackling obesity is a massive long-term challenge. Talk of a ticking time bomb is a cliché. But like many clichés, it contains a kernel of truth. An August 2021 study by University College, London indicated that about one in three middle-aged people have multiple chronic health issues such as recurrent back pain, mental health problems and high blood pressure. The research also showed the long-lasting links between childhood and adolescence and midlife health.

Unfortunately, studies like the ones cited here suggest that we are simply not doing enough to meet the obesity challenge. The University College, London study recommended action on health targeted at children and young people in order to improve the long-term health prospects of future generations. Such thinking resonates with the aims of Life-Based Learning — an approach to education and development for children and young people in which the life challenges that we all face, now and in the future, become the focus of a fully rounded life-based curriculum.

Tackling obesity – and promoting children’s physical health and wellbeing more generally – is one such challenge. We have argued recently that “we cannot continue as we are. Something more ambitious and radical is required. We need to rethink. We need to change our common frame of reference. We need to be proactive and long-term rather than reactive and short-term. And we need to be much more inclusive.”

Read More About Physical Health

Image at the head of this article by 14995841 from Pixabay.

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