The UK Primary School National Curriculum needs an urgent reboot

The gap between what is known and what is delivered to children in the National Curriculum is every widening. 

For example: children learning about and looking after their bodies (1), their emotions (2) and their minds (3).

(1) Physiology scientists know more about the body, yet the National Curriculum focus is not on the knowledge and the skills children need to be genuinely supported in learning about and looking after the body. 

(2) Psychologists know more about how to develop emotional resilience (EQ if you like), but the knowledge is not applied to the learning set up in a consistent and intentional way so children are not getting the emotional development they could be getting.

(3) Cognitive neuroscientists know so much more about how the brain learns and therefore, how teachers can facilitate learning so that children can learn the way the brain works – it is not happening

Given the urgent challenges facing individuals in today’s fast moving and everchanging society, the sooner the National Curriculum gets its act together the better.

Tilting at windmills

Statistics lend credibility to information, or so they say. Anyway, here are three stats to ponder:

  1. The National Audit Office [September 2020] identified 20.2% of 10 to 11 year-old children as obese in 2018/19.
  2. Digital NHS UK states adult overweight/obesity in 2018 as 67% men and 60% women
  3. On present trends, the vast majority of our children will be overweight or obese in their adult life – and expect one or more diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, vascular dementia to blight their lives and reduce their life expectancy.

The government’s ‘Childhood obesity: a plan for action’  created in August 2016 [Updated January 2017] is making no significant difference to curb the inexorable increase in obesity in children.

As outlined in the Ofsted report, ‘Obesity, healthy eating and physical activity in primary schools’, [Age group 5-11: Published July 2018],  Schools ‘have responsibility for a curriculum that gives children a solid body of knowledge about healthy living and the skill to pursue it.’

With no appreciable difference being made to counter the increasing numbers of children becoming obese, all the reports and government exhortations to improve children’s health are tilting at windmills.

The radical solution is to raise the attention and focus on fitness and health.

MAC does this by increasing the attention to children’s fitness and health as one of nine priority themes through which all learning is channelled.

The Body Theme tackles children’s fitness and health in a relentless and focused whole curriculum approach.

Target to cut childhood obesity in half will be missed

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

As reported in the Guardian newspaper, the report:

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

The National Audit Office website states:

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

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

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

Obesity Link to Covid-19

Image by Phichit Wongsunthi from Pixabay

It’s in the news again: obesity. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, himself the living proof topping out at 16 stone, is calling for action.

The Guardian newspaper highlights the numbers of people overweight: 40% of all men in England, but more women are obese than men, and an increase of 10% in both men and women since 1993.

The Guardian profiling of Boris Johnson’s own overweight admission and declaration to take measures to combat obesity follows on from the report published this month by Public Health England.

According to the report Excess Weight and Covid-19: Insights from new evidence, “Almost two-thirds of adults in England are living with excess weight for their height (BMI ≥25kg/m2), with similar figures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

The report provides “evidence on the links between weight status and Covid-19 outcomes”, but also places the link firmly in the context of how destructive overweight is on health. “Living with excess weight is a risk factor for a range of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, many cancers, liver and respiratory disease. Obesity is also associated with reduced life expectancy, and lower quality of life.”

Whilst there are overweight people due to medical conditions, and anorexics may take the government’s campaign to heart by eating even less, the overweight epidemic is very much a life-style condition across all sectors of society.

From the Life-Based Learning Forum perspective, the campaign to combat obesity needs to start with schools — not just as an add-on to the curriculum, but central to it. For example, knowing about and looking after the body is one of nine life themes through which everything is taught. Only by direct focus and attention in the education of the young can there be any hope of slimming down the population.

Public Support for a Focus on Health and Wellbeing

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

A YouGov survey indicates that 82% of the British people would prefer the government to prioritise health and wellbeing over economic growth during the current coronavirus emergency. It also suggests that 61% of people would choose improved social and environmental outcomes over economic growth even when the pandemic finally subsides.

The survey was commissioned by a campaigning group called Positive Money and features in a new report called The Tragedy of Growth.

Read more about the survey results here.

Life-based learning promotes health and wellbeing. The Merged Action Curriculum, an example of a life-based curriculum, has themes that focus on body, emotion and mind.

Please note that the Forum does not necessarily support or endorse the aims of the Positive Money campaign. We are highlighting the poll as evidence of popular support for quality-of-life priorities.

Five tips for creating a healthy school

The work of Fairfield Primary School in Cumbria around promoting health and well-being is really inspiring. Click here to read five useful tips to make your school more healthy, courtesy of the website.

What’s also interesting is that the five tips correspond very closely to what is set out in the Body learning domain.

We’re new. Come and have a look around the site. Let us know what you think. Join in the discussion about how we make the primary school curriculum better for our children.

Life Spark

The area of life called Self covers children learning about and looking after their bodies, their emotions and their minds. However, life is not just about the individual looking after these three aspects. The interdependence of the three aspects is crucially importance. Without the body, you are dead. Without the mind, you are no longer recognisable as the person you were. When emotions are turbulent, the body is under stress and the mind is unable to function.

It is the integration of all three that makes for a positive, lively human being.

The human being is more than the sum of their parts. The person is defined by more than their physical attributes, more than their emotional dynamic and more than the mind’s processes.

At the centre of every individual is their life spark, their anchor point, their sense of being. Whatever the physical, emotional or mind task being engaged in, it is essential always to relate children to their inner core.