Benefits of the Daily Mile

Daily Mile

Congratulations to the Daily Mile, which recently turned ten years old! According to the Daily Mile Foundation, four million children in 90 countries worldwide – including two million children in England alone – are now involved, twice as many as in 2019. Scotland was last year announced as the world’s first ‘Daily Mile Nation’. We have an obesity crisis affecting children and young people, and long-term health projections are, frankly, awful. There are many drivers of ill health, of course, and no one simple (or even complex) solution. Nevertheless, as it says on the official Daily Mile website, being active is key to everyone’s health and wellbeing.

The Daily Mile initiative was started in 2012 by Elaine Wyllie MBE, headteacher of a primary school in Stirling. Concerned about children’s lack of physical fitness, she got her pupils moving for fifteen minutes a day to improve their overall health and wellbeing. Over the last ten years the Daily Mile has grown into a global movement, enjoyed by millions of children and enjoying the backing of sports stars and others.

The aim of The Daily Mile is to improve the physical, social, emotional and mental health and wellbeing of our children – regardless of age, ability or personal circumstances.

from the Daily Mile website

Long-term projections about the state of the nation’s health make grim reading. Figures published by Cancer Research UK in May 2022 suggest that around seven in ten people in the UK – 42 million people – could be overweight by 2040, roughly 70% of the population.

The World Health Organisation’s European Regional Obesity Report 2022 said that obesity is at “epidemic proportions” in Europe, that obesity is causing 200,000 cancer cases and 1.2 million deaths a year, and that no country is on track to meet the WHO’s target of halting the rise in obesity levels by 2025.

Meanwhile, a 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.

Life-Based Learning and children’s health

In blogs such as A collective approach to obesity we have argued that radical new thinking is now required if we are going to prevent a public health disaster in the decades to come.

Encouraging children and young people – and adults – to take part in regular physical activity is not, on its own, going to magically solve all our health problems. There is a clear link, for example, between health outcomes and economic circumstances. Choosing healthy food options is not always easy – or cheap. Anyone living in cold and damp accommodation is likely to have health problems. Meanwhile, a junk-food culture seems to be, in the words of the restaurateur and food campaigner Henry Dimbleby, “all-pervasive”.

However, regular physical activity does have lots of benefits – especially for children. For example:

  • it improves bone health, muscle strength and heart health
  • it helps reduce anxiety and increases confidence
  • it supports self-esteem and happiness

Schools have a massive role to play. 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 – including the Daily Mile or something similar – and an emphasis on food education and healthy eating.

Read More About Obesity

Image at the head of this article by Mircea – See my collections from Pixabay.

The Big Help Out

The Big Help Out

Details have been announced this week of events taking place to celebrate the coronation of King Charles in May. As with the celebrations to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee in 2022, there is an emphasis on community, and – in tribute to the king’s lifetime of public service – a particular focus on volunteering. Vibrant communities are precious and need to be safeguarded and nurtured, not taken for granted until they disappear amid howls of regret and remorse. Life-Based Learning emphasises the importance of community. It also promotes agency and empowerment. Volunteering – and helping others more generally – brings many benefits: it is rewarding in itself, improves wellbeing, teaches us new skills, makes us more outward-looking and helps bring people and communities together.

The Coronation Big Lunch will take place on Sunday 7 May, the day after the coronation service at Westminster Abbey. “From a cup of tea with a neighbour to a street party, a Coronation Big Lunch brings the celebrations to your neighbourhood and is a great way to get to know your community a little better.”

Monday 8 May is a bank holiday. Members of the public are invited to take part in The Big Help Out. The aim is to encourage people to try volunteering for themselves and join the work being undertaken to support their local areas – “to bring communities together and create a lasting volunteering legacy from the coronation weekend.”

The Big Help Out is being organised by the Together Coalition and other partners. It “will highlight the positive impact volunteering has on communities across the nation”. Hundreds of activities are planned for the day by local community groups, organisations and charities including the Scouts, Royal Voluntary Service, National Trust and RNLI. Further details and ways to take part are due to be announced in the coming weeks.

The Big Help Out is going to be a festival of volunteering. A day when people up and down the country will roll up their sleeves and do their bit. In the run up to the day we’ll also be launching new ways of getting involved in volunteering in your community. The aim is to create a legacy of better-connected communities long beyond the coronation itself.

Jon Knight, chief executive of the Together coalition

According to its website, the Together coalition – which styles itself /together – is “one of the most powerful and diverse coalitions ever assembled in the UK … It is open to everyone who believes we have more in common than that which divides us.”

Its aims are:

  • building and popularising a positive narrative about commonality and togetherness that replaces one of hate and division
  • increasing meaningful social contact through participation in activities that bring people together, especially across divides
  • securing the policy changes from government and key institutions needed to increase social connection and heal divides
  • building and strengthening a wider movement committed to connecting communities and bridging divides, encouraging network effects

In 2022 the Together coalition organised the Thank You Day campaign, which was part of the platinum jubilee celebrations for the late Queen Elizabeth II. Something like 17 million people in the UK took an active part, according to Together: polling they carried out suggested 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.

Life-Based Learning and the importance of community

The aims of the Together coalition listed above chime with those of LBL.

The long-term 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 life-based themes delivered through subject content, and ensure that our children and young people have the knowledge, skills and values to contribute positively to community life.

Read More About Community

A healthy workforce

mental health and a healthy workforce

Poor mental health blights lives. And yet, whether it’s the number of people affected or the state of our mental health services, things just seem to get worse, at least according to the headlines. Poor mental health affects individuals, but it also causes damage more widely, including to the economy and society as a whole. Mental ill-health is one of the main reasons for absence at work, perhaps costing UK businesses around £35 billion a year. It is vital that people experiencing mental health problems get the care and treatment they need. But any long-term mental health strategy needs to be proactive as well as reactive. Promotion of healthy lifestyles and the prevention of ill health is a fundamental principle behind public health. We need to make mental health and wellbeing a priority for all.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as ‘a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.’

In other words, mental health matters because it affects everything – our quality of life, how we live our daily lives, our friendships, how well we cope with life’s ups and downs, our capacity for work, our ability to play a part in the community and to lead a fulfilling life. Good mental health is also good for our physical health – and of course the reverse is also true.

A healthy workforce

There were two important reports published in 2022 on the future of education – one by the Times Education Commission and one by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. Both reports emphasised the need to look to the future. “Your education today is your economy tomorrow,” is a quote that leaps out from the page of the chapter in the Times report called The Purpose of Education. They of course mean ensuring that we are giving young people the skills they will need to meet the needs of businesses in the decades ahead and drive future prosperity.

But there is also another sense in which we need our young people to be ready for work.

Goodshape is an absence-management company. They refer to themselves as the “wellbeing and performance experts” and offer their services to support businesses to “transform the way they manage employee wellbeing”. According to their UK PLC 2021 Workforce Health Report, poor mental health was the top reason for time off work in 2021, accounting for 19% of all lost working time across the country. The report also found that 54% of workers who take two or more mental health-related absences will go on to leave their jobs.

It is only one report, of course, but Goodshape claim to have the biggest workplace database, with more than 1.2 billion data points and a Deloitte quality rating of 96%. The Office for National Statistics suggests that mental ill-health accounted for about 10% of absence in 2021.

According to the St John Ambulance website, mental illness costs UK businesses around £35 billion a year – £10.6 billion in sickness absence, £21.2 billion in reduced productivity, and £3.1 billion in substituting staff members who vacate their roles due to mental illness.

It is often said that mental health is not the same thing as the absence of a mental illness. Making mental health and wellbeing a priority for all will benefit each of us as individuals. But it will also benefit the economy and it will benefit communities and society as a whole.

Life-Based Learning and mental health

There are many factors that affect mental health of course – there was a report just this week that the cost-of-living crisis is damaging the mental health of nearly half of adults in the UK – but an ambitious and coordinated effort to encourage and support people to lead healthy lifestyles will make a huge difference to the nation’s mental wellbeing. But we need to make it a priority, not just an add-on or an afterthought.

That’s why we need a long-term strategy, one that starts with children, supporting them as they grow to become happy, balanced and emotionally resilient adults, better able to lead a fulfilling life, weather life’s many storms and contribute productively to the economy and to society. Today’s children, after all, are tomorrow’s adults – and tomorrow’s workforce.

LBL advocates teaching children from an early age about their emotions and how to manage them, much improving their chances of growing up happy, comfortable in themselves and emotionally resilient. They also need to have free and regular access to activities that promote good mental health.

Making physical activity fun for young people, offering them plenty of choice and involving them in the design and delivery of physical activity programmes – for example, by making them a part of curriculum decision-making processes in schools – will all help promote physical literacy and mental wellbeing.

Our blogs regularly highlight the benefits to children’s mental health and wellbeing of regular physical exercise, outdoor and nature-based experiences and participation in activities that involve them in positive change.

Read More About Mental Health

The impact of social media

Impact of social media on mental health

One response on the letters page of the Guardian newspaper to a new survey on the impact of social media on young people, which found that large numbers of children are embarrassed by how they look was well, what’s new? To be fair to the letter writer (a doctor), she did not deny that social media was an aggravating factor – “the very real dangers of social media need to be detected and controlled” – but pointed out that dissatisfaction with how you look is a natural stage of the growing-up process. Nevertheless, in a week when the government’s proposed online safety bill is again in the news, the survey is a reminder of the potential damage that social media – and the online world more generally – can cause to the mental and physical wellbeing of us all – adults as well as children.

The survey – of 1,024 young people aged 12 to 21 – was published by the youth mental health charity stem4. It found that:

  • 77% of respondents are unhappy with how they look
  • 45% say they are regularly bullied by people they know or trolled online about their physical appearance

Respondents as young as 12 made comments such as “I’m fat”, “I’m embarrassed by my body” and “I’m not muscular enough”.

Other findings included:

  • 97% of respondents are now on social media, clocking up an average of 3.65 hours a day
  • 62% are worried that their mental health is being damaged by the online content pushed at them through social media algorithms and by the amount of time they are spending on social media
  • 95% say they feel helpless when it comes to quitting their online habit

The survey also found that children and young people are far more likely to turn to apps such as TikTok or Instagram when seeking to overcome negative feelings of low self-worth about their bodies than to family or friends – potentially trapping them in a negative loop of harmful information.

When young people use social media apps to look for much-needed information and advice, they find themselves presented with a supposed reality that is distorted and harmful. Their searches online then keep generating triggering content, which compounds the problem.

Dr Nihara Krause, consultant clinical psychologist, CEO and founder of stem4, quoted in the Guardian

It isn’t just social media, of course. In June we blogged about the impact of screen time – the amount of time spent using a device with a screen such as a smartphone, computer, television or video game console – on children’s physical and mental wellbeing. Among children, increases in screen time were found to be associated with inferior diet, poor eye health, deteriorating mental health (including anxiety) and behavioural problems such as aggression, irritability and the increased frequency of temper tantrums.

The stem4 survey was published in the same week that official data shows that the number of children needing treatment for serious mental health problems in England has risen by 39% in a year to more than 1.1 million. As we said last month, it doesn’t feel like hyperbole to use words like ‘crisis’ and ‘meltdown’ in the context of children and young people’s mental health.

Addressing this urgent and immediate demand is, of course, our first priority. But today’s children are tomorrow’s adults – and tomorrow’s workforce. Life-Based Learning is predicated on the idea that the life challenges that we all face, now and in the future, become the focus of a fully rounded life-based curriculum. One of the most important challenges is the ability to manage our mental health.

We need to raise our level of ambition and to embark on a long-term strategy, one that starts with children, supporting them as they grow to become happy, balanced and emotionally resilient adults, better able to lead a fulfilling life, weather life’s many storms and contribute productively to society.

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

Read More about Mental Health

New thinking in education

New thinking in education

Education was briefly back in the headlines this week with the hype ahead of the prime minister Rishi Sunak’s ‘Building a better future’ speech that all young people should be learning mathematics up to the age of 18. His argument is that a growing number of jobs rely on mathematical ability and the education system needs to change to reflect that. It wasn’t, as it turned out, one of his five ‘pledges’ but he did say that improving education “is the closest thing to a silver bullet there is”. On that we can probably all agree. New year – traditionally a time of looking forward – is as good a moment as any to come back to the question of what the purpose of education is and, more specifically, what sort of education system we want for our children and young people in the years and decades to come.

We may or may not welcome the shift to some form of maths for all up to the age of 18, if and when it ever happens. We may also be in favour of other tweaks to the system – the proposed introduction of a natural history GCSE, for example. The problem is that this is tinkering at the edges. What is required is something more fundamental and transformative.

Last year’s Times Education Commission report, Bringing out the best: How to transform education and unleash the potential of every child, concluded that Britain’s education system “is failing on every measure”. The clear consensus view among the 600 or so experts who were consulted by the commission was that change is “overdue and vital”. As we said at the time:

What shouts out from the opening pages of the report ­– chapter one, or section one, is actually called ‘Purpose of Education’ – is how widespread is the view that education needs to be about so much more than preparing for exams, and that the UK’s longtime obsession with chasing exam results has badly damaged the entire education system, ruining countless young lives along the way. Surely, education ought to be about things like helping children achieve fulfilment, unlocking potential, offering different pathways and preparing them for life?

from our blog The purpose of education

A key focus for the commission was, of course, the needs of the economy in the future, as it was for the 2022 report on education from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI), which made the point that the role of education is to equip people with the skills and personal qualities they need to succeed in life.

The TBI report talked of the need to “futureproof” education by focusing on developing skills to complement the technologies that will drive the next stage of economic development – “a world increasingly shaped by automation and artificial intelligence (AI)”. The workers of tomorrow, it says, will need the 4Cs – critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaborative problem-solving.

New thinking

Life-Based Learning is predicated on the idea that we cannot simply carry on as we are in education. Not surprisingly, therefore, there are significant areas of overlap between both of the reports mentioned above and LBL, particularly in relation to the curriculum – the argument that the current national curriculum is not fit for purpose and needs to be fundamentally rethought.

The world faces immense challenges. The LBL view is that we need to be thinking and planning long-term, and that means starting with the education we are offering our children.

Physical health and wellbeing. Mental and cognitive health. Economic dynamism and flexibility. Cultural vibrancy and community cohesion. The environment and sustainability. All of these are important priorities for the coming years and decades. They are central to LBL, a fresh approach to education and development for children and young people.

LBL brings greater meaning to learning, particularly subject learning, by making life itself the primary purpose – and focus – of learning, which is organised around life-based themes delivered through subject content.

The Times Education Commission’s chair wrote about “the need to give young people the intellectual and emotional tools to live productive, fulfilling lives.” The animating forces underpinning LBL are agency and empowerment, helping children and young people develop the knowledge, skills and practices to be happy and successful throughout life, including in the world of work.

Life-Based Learning prioritises:

  • physical health and wellbeing – including opportunities for regular sport and physical activity, and an emphasis on food education and healthy eating
  • mental health and wellbeing – including building emotional resilience
  • helping every young person discover the joys of reading and giving them the skills to express themselves not just accurately and functionally but also creatively and imaginatively
  • ensuring that young people are able to learn effectively and think clearly, inspiring a love of learning and developing a learning mindset that will benefit them throughout their lives
  • skills that enhance dignity and fulfilment in the workplace and prepare young people for the jobs of the future
  • giving young people the knowledge, knowhow and skills to live sustainably and in harmony with the needs of the planet
  • promoting access to and appreciation of culture in all its varied forms, igniting the creative spark in every young person and bringing a sense of meaning and purpose to life
  • political literacy – ensuring that young people can play their part as active, informed and responsible citizens, helping build a cohesive society founded on strong communities

Image at the head of this article by Alisa Dyson from Pixabay.

Read More About New Thinking

Review of the year

Review of the Year

It didn’t trouble the headline-writers but the National Trust’s just-published annual audit of how the year’s weather has affected nature ought to be at the forefront of our minds as we assess the year that is ending, formulate new year’s resolutions and generally look ahead.

This year’s weather in the UK has included drought, record-breaking summer temperatures, back-to-back storms, unseasonal heat, a severe cold snap and floods. The National Trust’s prediction is chilling: “Extreme weather conditions seen this year are set to become the new normal. This will have a devastating impact on wildlife unless more is done to tackle the climate and nature crises.”

The National Trust was, it goes without saying, far from the only organisation to have issued warnings this year about the stark challenges we – the entirety of humanity, that is, meaning every one of us on the planet and the billions yet to be born – face:

“As far as biodiversity is concerned, we are at war with nature. We need to make peace with nature. Because nature is what sustains everything on Earth … the science is unequivocal.” So said the UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen, at the COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal earlier this month.

Some people describe the tone adopted by the likes of UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres – he spoke this year of a “highway to climate hell” and a “cooperate or perish” choice for humanity – as unnecessarily alarmist, though there is widespread agreement about the need to move to a more sustainable way of living.

The evidence about the beneficial effects of nature on our physical and mental wellbeing continues to stack up at a seemingly ever-increasing rate. In October we blogged about the findings of a six-year programme designed to bring together the youth and environmental sectors by involving young people in nature projects. It suggested that participation boosted mental health, self-confidence and employability, and that participants were consistently found to be more confident, better skilled, happier and more able to find work as a result of their participation.

And yet – as we noted in November – most of the English countryside is off limits to the public – 92% of the countryside and 97% of rivers – including large parts of our national parks in England and Wales. The case for properly opening up the countryside to help boost physical and mental wellbeing is compelling.

Analysis carried out by the charity Diabetes UK showed that rates of type 2 diabetes in the under-40s are now increasing faster than in the over-40s, with cases up by 23% in the last five years. Meanwhile, figures released in April by the UK Office for National Statistics were a grim reminder of the massive gap in healthy life expectancy and in overall life expectancy between the wealthiest and the poorest areas of England. Someone born in a deprived part of the country may have almost twenty fewer years of healthy life than someone born in the wealthiest part.

We blogged in September about projected health outcomes for China in the coming decades. Death rates from non-communicable diseases associated with an affluent lifestyle – and therefore previously seen in high levels primarily in the West – are likely to reach staggering levels there by 2050.

Health outcomes in other rapidly developing countries around the world are likely to follow the same trends as China as affluence levels rise. Lung cancer, linked to high rates of smoking, is high up the list of non-communicable diseases killing milllions, as are diabetes and heart disease, often caused by a combination of a rich diet, low exercise levels and high blood pressure.

There have been outstanding sporting achievements this year – perhaps most notably the success of the England women’s football team in winning the Euro 2022 tournament. We have published several blogs about the importance of legacy and of ensuring that all the fine words we hear around big national moments don’t turn into empty promises, forgotten about or quietly shelved when difficult choices have to be made.

And on the back of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, there are lots of difficult choices to be made. Alas, political realities mean that much far-sighted and creative thinking is probably going to be stymied by short-termism and petty partisanship, with ideas and proposals put forward by one side routinely rubbished by the other, especially if they don’t come cheap or with quick and visible results.

Children and young people are often the ones worst affected, of course. Cuts and limits on funding are affecting everything from children’s mental health services to opportunities for adventurous play. And yet the need is acute. We blogged earlier this month that the mental health charity Mind says the wait to be treated can be as much as four years, and back in February about a warning from the Prince’s Trust regarding the state of young people’s mental wellbeing, including low levels of confidence about the future and high levels of anxiety and feelings of burnout.

An appetite for change

There is an appetite for change.

We wrote in October about polling commissioned jointly by the National Trust, the RSPB and WWF, which found that 81% of UK adults believe nature is under threat and that more needs to be done urgently to protect and restore it.

Back in June, when an astonishing 17 million people took an active role in Platinum Jubilee celebrations, we were reminded of a lockdown opinion poll which found that 73% of people would like society to be more connected in the future; they looked forward to “a new, country-wide moment that celebrates communities and what we have in common.”

We also blogged this year about two significant critiques of the current system of education in England, one from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change and the other from the Times Education Commission. The latter, which consulted more than 600 experts, concluded that Britain’s education system “is failing on every measure”.

Life-Based Learning is also about fundamentally rethinking the purposes of education. It is a bold call to make life itself and the life challenges that we all face – now and in the future – the focus of a fully-rounded approach to children’s learning and development.

Thank you for dropping by to read this and other blogs this year and for your interest in Life-Based Learning more generally.

We look forward to renewing our campaign in the new year for an approach to education in Britain and across the world that prioritises physical and mental health and wellbeing, the development of skills that enhance dignity and fulfilment in the workplace, the safeguarding of the planet and its resources, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

Image at the head of this article by Christian Bodhi from Pixabay.

Physical literacy and mental health

Physical literacy and mental health

We will have a merry Xmas, declares today’s Daily Express front-page headline defiantly. “Britons are determined to splash what’s left of their cash to make the most of Christmas”, it says, as if a mad spending spree is the answer to all our current woes. The reality is that good cheer is – like so much else – in short supply this year. Christmas will be a real struggle for many, as the cost-of-living crisis grips ever tighter. Meanwhile, the NHS is under unprecedented strain and one key public service after another is crippled by industrial action. Away from the headlines, huge numbers of us – including children and young people – are suffering, often alone and unsupported, with mental health problems. According to the homepage of the mental health charity Mind, it can take up to four years for a sufferer to receive treatment.

It doesn’t feel like hyperbole to use words like ‘crisis’ and ‘meltdown’ in the context of children’s mental health in particular. Last month an NHS Digital report found that one in four 17- to 19-year-olds had a probable mental disorder in 2022. Separate NHS figures indicated that the number of under-18s in contact with NHS mental health services in England rose by nearly 30% last year – to nearly one million. Earlier this year, GPs warned that mental health services for children and young people were critically failing and that young people who are anxious, depressed, or self-harming are now “routinely being denied help”. The charity Mind said that the government will be “failing an entire generation” if it doesn’t prioritise investment in young people’s mental-health services.

There are many drivers of mental ill-health, of course, and no quick fixes. We need to address acute and immediate problems but also put in place a long-term strategy to promote wellbeing. We also need to be proactive as well as reactive. Sport England said recently that “supporting children and young people to be active and play sport has never been more important.”

Participation in sport and physical activity helps with mental health and wellbeing. For example:

  • It improves self-esteem and happiness levels
  • It reduces stress, anxiety and depression
  • It brings people together, builds trust and helps tackle feelings of isolation

Sport England’s latest survey of children and young people’s activity levels, which we wrote about here, indicates that active children and young people are more likely to be happy and less likely to feel lonely than those who are less active. One particularly encouraging finding is that more young people appear to be choosing to get active specifically to support their mental wellbeing.

However, the survey also suggests that levels of physical literacy among children and young people – measured by their attitudes to sport and physical activity – have yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels. Another alarming finding is that children and young people from the least affluent families have lower happiness levels than those from the most affluent families – and the gap is widening.

Life-Based Learning and mental health

Life-Based Learning (LBL) aims to prepare children and young people for the challenges of modern life. One of the most important challenges is the ability to manage our mental health. LBL offers an approach to looking after our children and young people that not only addresses acute and immediate problems but also puts in place a bold strategy to promote future wellbeing.

LBL advocates teaching children from an early age about their emotions and how to manage them, much improving their chances of growing up happy, comfortable in themselves and emotionally resilient. They also need to have free and regular access to activities that promote good mental health. Making physical activity fun for young people, offering them plenty of choice and involving them in the design and delivery of physical activity programmes – for example, by making them a part of curriculum decision-making processes in schools – will all help promote physical literacy and mental wellbeing.

Our blogs regularly highlight the benefits to children’s mental health and wellbeing of regular physical exercise, outdoor and nature-based experiences and participation in activities that involve them in positive change.

Image at the head of this article by Hulki Okan Tabak from Pixabay.

Read More About Mental Health

Children’s activity levels

The England men’s football team fell short of cementing their place in history by lifting the World Cup, but millions of us came together to watch their progress, and the consensus seems to be that they gave a good account of themselves, with the promise of more to come – perhaps in the Euro 2024 tournament. The England women’s football team did manage to go all the way this summer, of course, winning the Euro 2022 tournament in front of a capacity crowd at Wembley Stadium and more than 17 million viewers. In recent blogs we have discussed the need to build on such potentially game-changing moments to promote not just football but participation in sport and physical activity in general. It needs to happen. We learned just last week that children and young people’s activity levels have more or less recovered to pre-pandemic levels but that, in the words of Sport England, there is much still to do.

Sport England’s annual survey of children’s activity levels found that 47% of children are now meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines of taking part in an average of 60 minutes or more of sport and physical activity a day. The downside of that statistic, of course, is that a majority of children and young people are not meeting the guidelines.

Nevertheless, we seem at least to be again moving in the right direction, however slowly. Overall activity levels are up 2.6% compared to the previous academic year, and activity levels are now back in line with the 2018–2019 academic year, the last full year before the pandemic.

Sport England described the newly published figures as “an encouraging step in the right direction but also a reminder there is much more to do so that as many children as possible feel the benefits of being active.”

The survey groups respondents into one of four categories:

  • Active – an average of 60 minutes or more a day
  • Fairly active – 30 to 59 minutes
  • Less active – less than 30 minutes a day
  • Inactive – no activity at all

One encouraging finding is that secondary-aged girls are now more active than at any point since the survey began in 2017–18. In particular, many more girls are playing football compared with five years ago – and this survey was done before this year’s Euro triumph, which surely augurs well for next year’s findings.

However, the figures also indicate several causes for concern. For example, despite the encouraging figures cited in the above paragraph, there is still a gender imbalance: boys have largely driven the recovery in activity levels (50% of boys compared with 45% of girls).

Affluence also impacts on activity levels. Those from low-affluence families are still less likely to be active than those from high-affluence families, and children and young people in the most deprived places in the country have not seen activity levels recover to what they were before the Covid pandemic.

The Active Lives Children and Young People Survey, which covers the 2021–22 academic year, is based on responses from more than 100,000 children aged five to sixteen. Much of the statistical information used in this blog comes from Sport England’s summary of the survey.

As well as highlighting initiatives that it has been involved in, Sport England makes a point of praising the work of schools in increasing activity levels:

While there are rises in both the numbers getting active outside school hours and during school hours, the in-school rise of 2.2% or just under 190,000 more children and young people taking part in an average of 30 minutes or more sport and physical activity a day, shows how hard schools worked to get sport and activity back in a safe and positive way after Covid-19.

Quoted from the Active Together website

In our blog The importance of legacy we asked how serious we are about legacy. “How do we ensure that all the fine words don’t turn into empty promises, forgotten about or quietly shelved when difficult choices have to be made?”

In our blog Building on the success of the Lionesses we pointed out that “legacies don’t just take care of themselves; even golden legacies can be squandered. Progress has been made around girls’ participation in sport but there remains much to be done, particularly for teenage girls. The Lionesses’ triumph at Euro 2022 has created momentum. Now we need to push on.”

Image at the head of this article by Josh Dick from Pixabay.

Read More About Legacy

Campaign for School Gardening

Campaign for School Gardening

Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, declared this week that humanity had become “a weapon of mass extinction”, putting a million species at risk. The web of life that sustains our planet – everything from plants and animals to fungi and micro-organisms – faces an existential threat from dangers such as irresponsible land use, overexploitation of resources, pollution and climate change. Guterres said that there must be no buck-passing on biodiversity and that the time to act is now. He is right. But we also need to think long-term and how we educate future generations to live in harmony with the needs of the planet.

Life-Based Learning prioritises young people learning about the environmental challenges we face and involves encouraging and empowering them to take practical action to promote sustainability and help make a difference. In addition to helping protect the planet and its biodiversity, interacting with nature has wider benefits for children and young people – everything from improving physical and mental wellbeing to boosting confidence and self-esteem and developing teamwork and communication skills.

Last week we blogged about the UK government’s proposed National Education Nature Park, a key element of the Department for Education’s sustainability and climate change strategy. The aim, says the government, is to create “one, vast, virtual, nature park”. One of the project partners is the Royal Horticultural Society, an organisation that already does much to encourage young people to connect with nature through its fantastic Campaign for School Gardening scheme.

The campaign is aimed at schools and also at youth groups and home educators. According to its website, the campaign offers children and young people opportunities to connect with nature, helping them to explore the Great Outdoors and learn how to care for plants and our planet.

The website also has an excellent news section with lots of ideas for gardening activities all year round as well as summaries of activities and schemes that schools and others have been involved in. For anyone looking to promote gardening – for example by starting up a gardening club as an extra-curricular activity or by making gardening a focus of cross-curricular work – the Campaign for School Gardening is an excellent place to start.

Best of all, perhaps, is their awards scheme, aimed at helping individuals, schools and groups to plan and develop a garden. There are five levels, each with success criteria in the form of easy-to-understand ‘can do’ statements and plenty of supporting resources available to help young people demonstrate that they have met the criteria. Once completed, there are certificates and other rewards on offer.

Level 4, for example, combines nicely with developing enterprise skills. One of the success criteria is ‘We raise funds to buy seeds, plants and equipment for our garden’ and there is a support sheet with information about things to consider before starting a growing enterprise project, such as what are likely to be the best things to grow if you are looking to fundraise.

A green education for every child

A short series of linked blogs we published earlier this year (see the links below) explored the key challenge that lies ahead as governments and other decision-makers seek ways to safeguard the planet’s biodiversity and prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change – in short, how do we influence lifestyle choices so that people live more sustainably? It concluded by arguing that there are no simple solutions but that a green education must be central to any long-term strategy. Children and young people, we said, are key to a greener future.

The concept of Life-Based Learning developed as a response to the urgent challenges we face. LBL is predicated on the notion that children need to be learning about the climate emergency, the threat to biodiversity and other such challenges. Nature, the environment, the animal kingdom, the physical world – in short, humankind’s relationship with and appreciation of the world around us – would be a central focus of a truly life-based approach to learning.

That’s why we need to ensure that a green education forms an integral part of the curriculum. LBL is about agency and empowerment, giving young people the knowledge, knowhow and skills to lead healthy, sustainable and happy lives, and helping inspire them to take on the immense challenges the planet faces.

The image at the head of this article is from the website of the RHS Campaign for School Gardening.

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National Education Nature Park

National Education Nature Park

The opening line from a recent government blog on its Education Hub site was certainly encouraging: “Education is one of the key tools we have in the fight against climate change,” it said. We now have a bit more information about two initiatives – a vast, virtual nature park and a climate action award scheme – that the government promises “will enable young people to learn more about the natural world around them and understand how they can play a part in making sure future generations can enjoy a cleaner, safer, greener world.”

The National Education Nature Park is an ambitious programme led by the Natural History Museum and other partners, including the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). The aim is to create “one, vast, virtual, nature park”. Schools are encouraged to sign up to the scheme that involves using citizen science to map and monitor biodiversity on their grounds and also to take action to enhance it. The RHS is linking this initiative to its campaign to promote school gardening.

The programme also offers support for teachers in early years and in primary and secondary schools. The Natural History Museum says it will create an online hub where “a wealth of information and teaching resources will empower teachers in delivering climate education and help them bring lessons outdoors, supporting the curriculum as well as improving pupils’ mental and physical wellbeing.”

The government claims that the climate action award scheme (previously referred to as a climate leaders’ award) will help children and young people “develop their skills and knowledge in biodiversity and sustainability. It will also celebrate and recognise their work in protecting the local environment.” The ambition is for the scheme to be recognised by employers and universities as a significant achievement.

Both measures were first announced at COP26 at Glasgow in November 2021 and feature in the Department for Education’s 2022 sustainability and climate change strategy.

We know from our work with teachers that there is a strong desire from children and young people to do more to take action for nature, creating green spaces that also provide benefits for health, social cohesion and learning. This new partnership project will help supercharge school gardening that will empower the next generation to make a real difference for nature and for their future.

Clare Matterson, Director General of the Royal Horticultural Society

We have written previously that citizen science schemes are a fantastic gateway for children into the world of nature, helping them appreciate and value what the world around us provides. Life-Based Learning prioritises young people learning about the environmental challenges we face and involves encouraging and empowering them to take practical action to promote sustainability and help make a difference.

In blogs like Immersing children in nature from a young age is a massive win-win we refer to the twin benefits – educational and health – of putting nature at the very heart of children’s lives, regardless of whether they live in the middle of the countryside or the middle of a city.

In our blog Agency and empowerment will help counter fatalism and climate anxiety, we wrote about the positive impact on mental wellbeing of getting involved in helping to bring about change for the better. Our blogs regularly highlight activities, initiatives and campaigns that individuals, families, schools and communities can take part in to help improve the environment and build a sustainable future.

The concept of Life-Based Learning developed as a response to the urgent challenges we face. Nature, the environment, the animal kingdom, the physical world — in short, humankind’s relationship with and appreciation of the world around us — would be a central focus of a truly life-based approach to learning.

LBL is about agency and empowerment – giving young people the knowledge, knowhow and skills to lead healthy, sustainable and happy lives, able as individuals and collectively to tackle the many challenges that blight our world.

Read More About Nature and the Environment

The image at the head of this article is from the website of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Campaign for School Gardening.