A people’s plan for nature

People's Plan for Nature

An important conversation about the future of nature has just started – one that will be “too big for anyone to ignore” – and the entire UK population is invited to join in. The People’s Plan for Nature is an initiative from WWF, the National Trust and the RSPB. They describe it as “a unique, people-led collaboration to make our nature something we can all be proud of.” They point out that the nature crisis affects us all and so we all should have a say in how we protect and restore nature – including young people. Life-Based Learning is all about engagement and participation, and the People’s Plan for Nature is a fantastic opportunity to take part in something positive and – it is to be hoped – game-changing.

The first stage of the plan is the consultation bit, the collection and sharing of ideas. This is happening online, with the deadline for responses 30 October. Questions include:

  • What do you love about nature in the UK? What would you miss if it disappeared?
  • Imagine it’s 2050 and nature in the UK is thriving. What is different from now?
  • What exciting examples have you seen of people working together to restore and protect nature?

The People’s Plan for Nature website includes lots of examples to provide ideas and inspiration, and there is also an opportunity to comment on others’ ideas.

The second stage is the convening of a people’s assembly in November. The People’s Assembly for Nature will be made up of 100 people who are representative of the UK population. They will sift through the public’s ideas and listen to experts before developing a set of recommendations.

Stage three is the launch of the plan in March 2023. It will “set out how the government, businesses, NGOs and communities can take action to tackle the nature crisis.”

Life-Based Learning is all about reimagining education so that it reflects the issues and challenges we face in the coming decades and putting life itself at the core of learning. A life-based education needs to be a green education. The environment and our relationship with the planet are a central pillar of LBL, ensuring that children are learning:

  • to value nature and the Earth’s plant life
  • to value and nurture animal life
  • about the importance of managing the Earth’s resources and living sustainably

LBL is also 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 – not least the sustainability challenge.

We have blogged previously about the importance of engagement and participation in education, particularly as a way of dealing with eco-anxiety. Children and young people need to be learning about the environmental challenges we face, but at the same time they also need to be encouraged and empowered to take practical action to make a difference and bring about change. It is a crucial step to making things better, an acknowledgement that solutions cannot just be left to distant and abstract actors on the world stage like sovereign governments and the United Nations. It is also a way to tackle mental health conditions like eco-anxiety that thrive on feelings of helplessness and disempowerment.

Healthy lifestyle choices

Healthy lifestyle choices

They were nowhere near the front pages but two health-related stories in the Guardian this week – from different parts of the world – gave this reader particular pause for thought. The first warned that China is facing a health emergency in the coming decades from “hidden epidemics’’ of diseases such as cancer, heart trouble and diabetes. The second suggested that 40% of cancer cases in the UK are preventable. 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. Unless we do more to ensure that individuals – including children and young people – adopt healthy lifestyle choices, we will continue to sleepwalk towards disaster.

Projected health outcomes for China in the coming decades are grim. 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 by 2050. 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.

And that’s without factoring in chronic ill-health and death linked to pollution, which are also sure to increase unless we change the way we interact with the planet.

China has undergone an incredible economic transformation since the 1980s. It is now the second-biggest economy in the world. Rapid industrialisation has resulted in a massive shift to urban living and in higher wages. Diet and lifestyles have also radically changed.

According to the Guardian article:

  • smoking-related diseases – including lung cancer and respiratory and heart disease – will kill one in three young Chinese men by 2050, according to current projections
  • the biggest cause of death currently is strokes
  • cardiovascular disease is a major killer – hypertension, obesity and a poor diet low on fruit and vegetables but high on red meat are common in the highly urbanised north
  • 150 million people are likely to have diabetes by 2050

China now faces health-related challenges familiar to Western societies: a massive increase in lifestyle-related diseases combined with an ageing population, resulting in a health system that struggles to cope and millions of people dying prematurely.

Meanwhile, newly published data shows a significant increase in preventable cancer cases in the UK. Figures released this week by the World Cancer Research Fund show that 387,000 people were diagnosed with cancer in 2019–20, of which about 155,000 – about 40% – were preventable.

Around 40 per cent of cancers could be prevented through lifestyle changes such as eating healthily, being active, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking. Other ways include avoiding drinking alcohol, eating no more than three portions of red meat a week and little, if any, processed meat, breastfeeding if you can, and being safe in the sun. A healthy diet for cancer prevention consists of a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, and very little junk food including sugary drinks, all of which are part of World Cancer Research Fund’s Cancer Prevention Recommendations.

from the WCRF press release, 27 September 2022

Both of these stories – projected health outcomes in China, preventable cancer cases in the UK – underscore the importance of ensuring that individuals adopt healthy lifestyle choices.

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. Promoting children’s physical health and wellbeing – and therefore helping to improve long-term health outcomes and turn around these grim projections – is one such challenge.

Education is vital 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.

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

Unimaginative nanny-state rhetoric

nanny state

‘Nanny state’ is a politically loaded term, used tendentiously to make an ideological point, namely that it is not the job of government to interfere (another loaded term, of course, as is ‘red tape’) in our everyday lives and decision-making. Expect to hear the phrase a lot in the coming weeks and months. Liz Truss’ new Conservative government is set to chart a markedly different ideological course from its predecessor, led by Boris Johnson, even though it too was a Conservative administration. We read, for example, that ministers are currently reviewing – code for scrapping – the entire anti-obesity strategy for England. The cost of living is cited as a reason, but so is the ‘nanny state’. Life-Based Learning is not overtly political, and certainly not party-political. But any discussion of principles, values and aims cannot be entirely divorced from the realm of politics. LBL is predicated on the idea that we cannot simply carry on as we are – not least in relation to health and wellbeing. Analysis after analysis, health projection after health projection provides compelling evidence that obesity is a health challenge we cannot afford to ignore or tackle in a half-hearted way.

The Johnson government introduced – or was planning to introduce – a number of measures to tackle obesity. A ban on multi-buy deals (eg ‘buy one, get one free’) and on pre-watershed advertising of junk food was due to be implemented this year but then pushed back – for cost-of-living reasons, according to the government. Other measures include:

  • restrictions on the placement of less healthy products at checkouts and store entrances (due to be introduced shortly)
  • a tax on high-sugar soft drinks (introduced in 2018)
  • rules requiring larger restaurants and takeaways to print calories on menus (introduced in April this year)

All of these, it seems, may now be scrapped. It is not hard to find voices opposed to the ministerial review, many of them from outside the realm of party politics. Professor Graham MacGregor, a specialist in cardiovascular health and chairman of Action on Sugar, was quoted by the BBC, for example, as saying that scrapping the strategy would be disastrous to public health and for food business which had prepared for the policy change: “Now, more than ever, the UK population need equitable access to healthy, affordable food and this can only be achieved with policies designed to rebalance our food system.”

Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, was quoted in the Guardian as saying: “Though £6bn might be the annual cost of treating obesity, the overall cost to the nation of obesity and the serious medical conditions that it triggers is £58bn a year.”

We wrote the following in a recent blog about the environment and sustainability:

In free societies it is axiomatic that the power of government should be limited. The pandemic was an emergency requiring extraordinary measures: worst-case scenarios indicated that hundreds of thousands of people might die. However, this was the ground – the proper role of government – where significant differences of outlook first started to show themselves: between those who wanted to restore full individual liberty as quickly as possible, leaving decisions on individual behaviour up to the individual, and those who took a more interventionist view, arguing that there was an important and significant role for the state in safeguarding public health and wellbeing. And the greater the role for government, the greater the financial cost, meaning increases in taxation and government borrowing.

Problems with going green

Two overlapping issues – the political/ideological and the economic: it is not the proper role of government to meddle in people’s lives because it is a denial of our basic freedoms and because it leads to higher taxes. 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 government should not be ‘instructing’ people on things like what they should and should not eat.

As noted above, LBL is not party-political. However, as also noted above, LBL is rooted in the idea that it is folly to continue as we are – whether it is in relation to mental health, how we engage with each other, the environment and sustainability, or physical health.

It cannot be left solely – or even primarily – to individual choice and tinkering around the edges of existing policies and approaches. Something more radical is 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.

Life-Based Learning is about reimagining education so that we focus on the massive life challenges we face.

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 Physical Health

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

Teen Substance Use

health education

Evidence from an NHS Digital survey indicates that smoking and drug use among teenagers is declining and that the amount of alcohol use is broadly unchanged since 2018. Vaping, on the other hand, is on the increase. Grabbing the headlines was the statistic that one in five 15-year-old girls say that they vape. Opinions will differ on this particular finding – vaping is not free of risk but it is almost certainly less harmful to health than smoking – but overall most people will presumably find these survey results encouraging. We of course have a moral duty to do all we reasonably can to improve children’s physical and mental health. And we also need to be thinking about how we improve health outcomes over the long term. We can reduce the incidence of health problems that blight later life by working intensively with children and young people now. That is why physical and mental health are such an important focus of Life-Based Learning.

The Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England, 2021 survey was published by NHS Digital in early September. It contains results from the latest survey of secondary school pupils in England (mostly aged 11 to 15), focusing on smoking, drinking and drug use. It covers a range of topics including prevalence, habits, attitudes and wellbeing. The survey is usually run every two year. The latest survey was delayed, however, due to the impact of the Covid pandemic on schools, so this survey compares findings with those from 2018.

The main findings were that:

  • 18% said they had tried drugs, down from 24% in 2018
  • cannabis is the most popular drug among this age group

  • there has been a decrease in the prevalence of smoking cigarettes
  • 12% had ever smoked (16% in 2018), 3% were current smokers (5% in 2018), and 1% were regular smokers (2% in 2018)

  • 9% are vapers (up from 6%)
  • 21% of 15-year-old girls vape, and girls are more likely to vape than boys

  • 40% of pupils said they had ever had an alcoholic drink (with prevalence increasing with age)
  • 6% said they usually drank alcohol at least once per week, the same as in 2018 (including 14% of 15-year-olds)

  • 18% said they had ever taken drugs (24% in 2018)
  • 12% had taken drugs in the last year (17% in 2018), and 6% in the last month (9% in 2018)

Other key findings were that:

  • pupils who frequently met up with people outside their school or home were more likely to have recently smoked, drunk alcohol or taken drugs
  • low wellbeing was more likely among pupils who recently smoked, drank and/or have taken drugs

Life-Based Learning and health

Improving children’s physical and mental health is an end in itself. But helping children lead healthy lives should also be seen as part of an ambitious long-term public health strategy. Research shows the long-lasting links between childhood/adolescence and midlife health. Obesity trends in all age groups, including children, are certainly not encouraging. We need to ensure that children live healthy lives now and that they have the knowledge, knowhow and opportunity to lead healthy lives into and throughout adulthood.

Life-Based Learning is an approach to education in which the life challenges that we all face, now and in the future, become the focus of a fully rounded life-based curriculum.

Image at the head of this article by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

Skills for life

skills for life

The recent report on education from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) states that the role of education is to equip people with the skills and personal qualities they need to succeed in life. In the recent Times Education Commission report, the commission’s chair wrote about “the need to give young people the intellectual and emotional tools to live productive, fulfilling lives.” Both are hard-hitting analyses, sharing the belief – as does Life-Based Learning – that the current approach to how we educate children is not fit for purpose and that we need much more of an emphasis on skills and aptitudes such as creativity, critical thinking and communication.

The TBI report – Ending the big squeeze on skills: How to futureproof education in England – is withering in its assessment of the current national curriculum, labelling it highly prescriptive and inflexible. The relentless promotion of EBacc subjects, it says, crowds out important non-EBacc subjects such as art and design technology – important not least because of the skills and attitudes such subjects promote.

Moreover, the obsession with one-off, closed-book, end-of-course exams skews teaching methods towards rote learning and memorisation. There is little or no time for children to develop other key skills and aptitudes, which are in any case not tested and therefore not valued. Instilling in pupils the 4Cs – creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication – is “not a luxury but a necessity”, the report says.

The focus of the TBI report is the world of work in the coming decades and the skills that will be required – digital skills but also critical thinking and creativity (the ability to generate new ideas and methods), problem-solving and “skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility”.

This analysis mirrors a key criticism of the current education system made by the recent Times Education Commission. One of its arguments is that – partly because of our obsession with exam results – we are treating children “as passive recipients of knowledge” and failing to teach them to be creative and critical thinkers, and active participants in their own learning.

Following the publication of the TBI’s report this letter appeared in the Guardian newspaper. It is worth reading in full:

I support the Tony Blair Institute’s suggestion to reform the outdated GCSE and A-level exams. I am a university lecturer and see the effects of our school system on a daily basis. The current system is narrow, valuing only memorisation of bare academic facts, and does not allow children to learn how to think outside the box and to develop independent critical thought.

Many young people arrive at university lacking basic communication skills (verbal and written) and without any experience in experimentation and making mistakes. They are fearful of discussion and of doing anything they consider might be “wrong” because they are so used to being rewarded only for getting an answer “right”.

Many panic when they are not given every last detail on how to do an assignment and ask endless questions, down to what font size they should use. Young people’s imaginations and potential are being stifled by a system that accepts only one answer as being correct, that does not teach them basic life skills and fails to prepare them for life beyond the school gates. Universities do their best to reverse this mentality, but it is hard when it is so ingrained throughout schooling, and compounded by the ever-dwindling resources that we have at our disposal.

Letter (name and address withheld) to the Guardian, published 25 August 2022

Life-Based Learning

The purpose of LBL is to make sure that children are ready for life beyond the school gates by better preparing them for the challenges of tomorrow – including but not limited to the world of work.

We want children to:

  • be fitter and healthier
  • have greater emotional resilience to meet the stresses and strains of modern-day living
  • develop enquiring and learning minds
  • acquire improved communication, relationship and workplace skills
  • take their place in vibrant and caring communities, accepting of all races and creeds

Life-Based Learning also aims to ensure that we better look after the physical environment, improving the long-term prospects for the entire human race.

Read More About New Thinking

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

Another call for change

education new thinking

Last week the respected Tony Blair Institute for Global Change published a report calling for “a radically different education system” in the UK. The report is part of its Future of Britain initiative which aims to “meet the challenges the country faces in the decades ahead”. It was published in the same week as GCSE exam results showed a widening gap between richer and poorer parts of the country and between north and south, and just weeks after the publication of a comprehensive report by the Times Education Commission, which consulted more than 600 experts and 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.

Central to the Tony Blair Institute’s thinking is 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.

The report calls for “a revised curriculum, more sophisticated modes of assessment and a new, rigorous accountability framework that is better attuned to the things that matter most” – combined with what it calls “a comprehensive edtech strategy”. The national curriculum should be overhauled, with schools following a slimmed-down curriculum consisting of numeracy, literacy, science and digital skills, allowing “plenty of room to innovate”.

The report is highly critical of the current education system, saying, for example, that:

  • it relies heavily on passive forms of learning focused on direct instruction and memorisation – ie rote learning
  • it overemphasises knowledge via a narrow set of methods and subjects
  • it restricts schools’ ability to focus on other valuable subjects and skills

Life-Based Learning and the purpose of education

There are significant areas of overlap between the Tony Blair Institute’s report and Life-Based Learning, particularly in relation to the curriculum – the argument that the current national curriculum is not fit for purpose and needs to be fundamentally rethought.

Life-based Learning aims to reimagine education by bringing greater meaning to learning, particularly subject learning, by making life itself the primary purpose – and focus – of learning. We owe it to our children to equip them with the knowledge, skills and values to find health and happiness in the modern world and to better prepare them – as they grow into adulthood – to manage the life-threatening challenges facing individuals, societies and environments across the planet.

This is an urgent priority. Time is not on our side.

Alas, the omens are not good. The two candidates to be the UK’s next prime minister have now been campaigning for two months, but their only significant comments about education have been in favour of the expansion of grammar schools and (in Liz Truss’s case) to suggest mandatory Oxbridge interviews for able school-leavers. Besides, it is hard to imagine the focus in education in the next few months being on anything other than the soaring cost pressures on schools and colleges and on whether they will even be able to guarantee opening both morning and afternoon five days a week during the coming winter.

Nevertheless, the campaign to reimagine education needs to go on.

Read More About New Thinking

Image at the head of this article by Freelance Grafiker from Pixabay.

A welcome social prescribing initiative

social prescribing

The Department for Transport has announced that walking and cycling are to be offered on prescription in a nationwide trial. ‘Social prescriptions’ will be offered by GPs as part of a new trial to improve mental and physical health. Evidence of success will include fewer GP appointments and reduced reliance on medication, both of which will ease the burden on the NHS. This initiative aligns not just with a wider ‘social prescribing’ approach by the NHS but also with the view that a serious, collective approach to physical health and wellbeing – led by and including an active, interventionist role for government – is required if we are going to prevent a public health disaster in the decades to come.

Funding for the initiative will support pilot projects in 11 local authority areas and will include adult cycle training, free bike loans and walking groups. Other schemes include all-ability cycling taster days where people who may not have cycled before can try to in a friendly environment, or walking and cycling mental health groups where people can connect with their communities as they get active.

This initiative is a welcome example of joined-up thinking across government. It is led by the Department for Transport but its press release talks of “a whole systems approach to health improvement and tackling health disparities”. Chris Boardman, the former elite cyclist who has now been appointed commissioner for the government’s new cycling and walking body, Active Travel England, has said:

As a nation we need healthier, cheaper and more pleasant ways to get around for everyday trips. Active Travel England’s mission is to ensure millions of people nationwide can do just that – so it’s easier to leave the car at home and to enjoy the benefits that come with it. Moving more will lead to a healthier nation, a reduced burden on the NHS, less cancer, heart disease and diabetes, as well as huge cost savings. This trial aims to build on existing evidence to show how bringing transport, active travel and health together can make a positive impact on communities across England.

Chris Boardman, Active Travel England

We have previously highlighted the practice of social prescribing as showing 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 to promote health and wellbeing at a national and local level.

We work to create partnerships, 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. We will champion social prescribing and the work of local communities in connecting people for wellbeing.

from the website of the National Academy for Social Prescribing

Life-Based Learning is focused on reimagining education for children and young people. We need to be thinking and planning long-term – starting with the education we are offering our children. Physical activity and wellbeing. Mental health. Cognitive health. Community cohesion. The environment and sustainability. All of these are important priorities for the coming years and decades. They are central to LBL, an approach to education and development for children and young people in which the life challenges that we face – now and in the future – become the focus of a fully rounded, life-based approach to learning.

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Healthy lifestyle choices

Healthy lifestyle choices

health education

Teen Substance Use

skills for life

Skills for life

Image at the head of this article by Sylwia Aptacy from Pixabay.

The importance of legacy

Legacy

It’s that word legacy again. Last Friday the Local Government Association called for money raised from the soft drinks industry levy to be available for councils to spend on tackling childhood obesity and encouraging greater physical activity in their local areas to “ensure (a) lasting Commonwealth Games legacy”. The day before, the women’s and men’s England Commonwealth Games hockey teams sent a letter to the two candidates vying to be the next prime minister calling for government support to back the provision of PE and team sport within schools. The letter speaks of “our legacy and goal to inspire the nation”. But how serious are we 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?

Let’s take the LGA’s press release first.

The sugar levy, designed to reduce consumption of sugary drinks, has raised around £1.2 billion since its introduction. However, according to the LGA, it is no longer ringfenced to be spent on efforts to tackle obesity and physical inactivity despite a commitment from the government to use it to fund programmes to encourage physical activity and balanced diets.

Sporting events like the Commonwealth Games are fantastic at influencing international perceptions of the UK and marketing the UK to international visitors. But we must ensure that participation boosts fuelled by events like these are not short lived.

Councils provide the majority of public swimming pools and leisure facilities, which are now under increased pressure as a result of rising energy costs. Urgent intervention is needed to prevent council-run leisure facilities from closing under cost-of-living pressures. Coupled with long-term investment in public sport alongside major UK sporting events, this will help to inspire people to be more active for generations to come.”

Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board

And now the ‘Letter to the future prime minister from England Hockey’.

A joint letter from the men’s and women’s hockey teams, it speaks of the need for “real change” – particularly by creating more opportunities for children and young people of all backgrounds and abilities to enjoy sport and physical activity.

The letter sets out three specific changes that England Hockey want to see:

  • Every child in this country to have access to a minimum of two hours of PE and school sport per week.
  • PE to be a compulsory subject on the national curriculum with team sports, including hockey, a core part of this offer
  • Substantial, targeted investment in PE and school sport to improve facilities and the number of PE teachers in primary and secondary schools.

These two interventions have several things in common. There’s the idea of building on the impetus generated by an event or a moment that has captured the public’s imagination. There’s the emphasis on promoting physical health and wellbeing – whether through active lifestyles and opportunities to participate in sport or through improved diet. And there’s the long-term focus. That’s the legacy thing – looking years into the future and aiming for better than what we have now.

Obesity levels are on the increase while activity levels are on the decrease. Future projections are a serious cause for concern. The Cancer Research charity published a report in June suggesting that around 7 in 10 people in the UK – 42 million people – could be overweight by 2040.

We need to ensure that children are encouraged to lead active lives, understand the importance of participating in regular physical activity and have regular opportunities to do so. But as we have suggested in recent blogs (see below), legacies do not take care of themselves. They can be squandered. The blog Meeting the challenges highlighted the political and economic pressures that will make it hard for the government – of whatever political complexion and in whatever country – to do the hard thinking, make the game-changing choices and provide the generous funding that will be required to ensure that we address challenges such as obesity and reduced life expectancy. Those pressures – and particularly the pressure on the public coffers – will not ease in the next few months or years. They will be with us for the medium term at the very least.

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.

from our blog Meeting the challenges

Read More About Sport and Legacy

Image at the head of this article by daniel puel from Pixabay.

Commonwealth Games and legacy

Commonwealth Games legacy

The Commonwealth Games ended on Monday, just a week or so after the women’s football Euro 2022 tournament. Both events served up a feast of high-quality sporting entertainment and were outstanding adverts for popular participation, inclusion and diversity. But the Commonwealth Games, in particular, was more than just a sporting event. It continues (present tense) to be a celebration of Birmingham and the West Midlands – its history and heritage, its art and culture, its people and communities. Like all such high-cost, high-profile events, legacy is built into the planning. The word ‘legacy’ is, of course, shorthand for ‘building a better future for all’. But, as we wrote last week, legacies don’t take care of themselves. It obviously isn’t feasible to put on marquee events on this scale all the time. Nevertheless, the imagination, creativity and ambition shown by the event organisers indicates what we can achieve when we put the future at the centre of our thinking.

The immediate impact of the Games on the public consciousness has been significant: an estimated 1.5 million ticket sales; more than 13,000 volunteers; impressive TV audiences – 57 million streams, 28 million viewers – across the eleven days of competition. There is also the economic benefit of the huge influx of tourism and the boost for the region that comes with new investment, such as the specially built Sandwell Aquatics Centre. And the full integration of the para-games – part of not separate from the main Games – also marked another step forward for inclusion in sport.

The Games’ Legacy Plan cover ten separate areas, including:

  • Community cohesion, inclusion and pride
  • Creative and cultural participation
  • Volunteering
  • Physical activity and wellbeing
  • Youth
  • Sustainability

What is striking is how closely these areas match Life-Based Learning themes. LBL is, in a way, all about legacy: it aims to organise learning around the modern-day challenges we face so that we build a better future for all.

For example, in our blog Ensuring children lead active lives we reported in May the findings of the latest survey from Sport England: 27% of adults are inactive – defined as taking part in less than 30 minutes of activity a week on average – activity levels for those aged 16–34 continue to fall “at a worrying rate” and the overall numbers “hide stark inequalities”.

Local sports clubs – from running to basketball – reported a surge in interest during the Commonwealth Games, as happens after many high-profile events. But what do we do to sustain interest and participation levels once the event itself disappears from our screens?

LBL emphasises the importance of ensuring that children are encouraged to lead active lives, understand the importance of participating in regular physical activity and have regular opportunities to do so. Not only is it good for them here and now, it will also help them learn habits that will serve them well throughout their lives.

One basketball club chief executive was quoted by the BBC calling for investment from the government and local authorities “to ensure that those young people that want to play our wonderful sport are able to do so”. Funding is hugely important, of course, but people are also required – people to run the facilities, to offer their skills and expertise, to provide the necessary drive and encouragement to turn ambition into reality. That means people who understand the value of community, people prepared to do their bit to help build community pride and cohesion.

The Commonwealth Games showed the power of communities pulling together. Talking about the response of the people of the West Midlands to the Games, Team England’s chef de mission (the person in overall charge) gave an idea of what is possible when a community comes together:

It has been nothing short of outstanding. It is not just those that bought tickets, it is everybody in the West Midlands – from the taxi drivers to the volunteers to the members of the public that have been high-fiving everybody. Everybody should be very, very proud of what they have contributed.

Mark England, in overall charge of Team England, quoted here

The Games has been supported by a six-month cultural festival showcasing the creativity of Birmingham and the West Midlands. Their website talks about bringing people together, inspiring people to engage with arts and culture, and creating a more diverse, more representative audience for arts and culture in the region. It also emphasises the importance of communities and bringing people together: “Entwining sport, culture, and community the Games will provide us a tremendous opportunity to accelerate and strengthen community cohesion and inclusion.”

Community is also a key focus of Life-Based Learning — one of its nine life themes. We blog regularly about the need to promote community pride and cohesion. For example, in our blog Vibrant communities enrich us all and need to be strengthened we highlighted and celebrated the amazing community work of a small selection of young people. And we wrote about the importance of community education to ensure that our children and young people have the knowledge, skills and values to contribute positively to community life — to the mutual benefit of the children and the community.

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Building on the success of the Lionesses

Lionesses and girls' sport

Hope. Inspiration. Legacy. Game-changing. All words much in use over the last few days but particularly since Sunday evening when the Lionesses – the England women’s football team – won the Euro 2022 tournament by beating Germany in front of a capacity crowd at Wembley Stadium. The BBC estimates that more than 17 million people tuned in at some point during the game – not including all those (like me) watching in communal spaces such as pubs. The Queen led the congratulations: “You have all set an example that will be an inspiration for girls and women today, and for future generations.” But 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.

The ex-footballer Ian Wright said after the Lionesses’ semi-final victory: “If girls are not allowed to play football in their PE, just like the boys can, what are we doing?” Figures published this month by England Football, part of the Football Association (FA), showed that while primary schools tend to offer broad access to girls’ football, participation drops off once girls reach secondary school.

Around 72 per cent of primary schools offered equal football coaching to boys and girls last year, but the figure fell to just 44 per cent in secondary schools. Meanwhile, just over a third of secondary schools offered girls equal access to football coaching through extracurricular clubs outside school hours.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, Karen Bardsley, former Manchester City and England goalkeeper, said:

“Going forward we need to make sure football is accessible to all girls and boys in primary schools. Now there is no excuse because we have seen the fruits of the labour that has already happened.”

The figure of 44% cited above is uncannily close to ‘the lost 43%’ – the name given by the Women in Sport charity to the 43% of teenage girls who, according to the charity’s report published in March, used to consider themselves as sporty but no longer did so.

The report found that more than half of all teenage girls did not regard themselves as sporty and – of real concern – that only 25% of those surveyed (boys and girls) said that school encouraged and supported them to be active. That is an astonishing finding. Schools have a crucial role to play in encouraging participation and in providing frequent, high-quality opportunities for young people – girls and boys – to take part in physical activity, including a wide range of individual, team-based and competitive sports and games.

And as Eileen Marchant MBE, former chair of the Association for Physical Education, has said, it can’t just be left to schools. The infrastructure and the support and encouragement need to be there too:

… but we’ve got to be clear that if they want to continue outside of school, that the facilities and clubs are there that schools can feed into. That is really important, that we start at grassroots, that the inspiration starts at school… but then it’s important there are exit routes when they leave school so they can continue. That pathway needs to go right to the top level. Those women last night weren’t just suddenly great at football – they’ve come through the system; many of them may well have started in school…

Eileen Marchant MBE, quoted on the Association for Physical Education website

Life-Based Learning and healthy lifestyles

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.

Life-Based Learning emphasises participation in sport, physical activity and outdoor play to help children grow up physically and mentally healthy. It also recognises the importance of children developing habits and a healthy mindset that they will carry with them into adult life. The Body is one of nine learning themes that make up Life-Based Learning. Tackling health and wellbeing combines a focus on children learning how to look after themselves with a coordinated, whole-school focus on physical activity.

Read More About Sport and Physical Activity

Image at the head of this article by 7721622 from Pixabay.