It has been well documented this week that two-thirds of primary school-age children are falling below the recommended levels of fitness for their age group. These sort of statistics are still shocking, despite them being replayed on a regular basis by a range of figureheads, from Youth Sport Trust chair Baroness Sue Campbell to healthy eating crusader Jamie Oliver. But what are we as teachers doing about it? What messages are we giving to our pupils?

‘Get fit to live a healthy and happy life’. ‘You are what you eat’. ‘Join a sports club and feel the benefits of being part of a team’. These are all great messages and ones which I believe the majority of teachers are telling their pupils but what percentage of teachers are practising what they preach?

I think it was part of a careers week in school when I was approached by a young boy who proudly announced that he wanted to be a teacher. Beaming with glee, thinking of how I must have inspired this earnest young pupil to follow in my footsteps, I asked him for the reasons behind his decision. There was only one. “Teachers spend all of their time eating biscuits and cakes in the staffroom.” It got me thinking about what we ask of pupils compared to what we do ourselves.

‘Only healthy snacks allowed’ according to school policies up and down the country. Yet how many pupils can tell tales of the time they caught a glimpse inside the teachers’ staffroom only to behold a ten foot tall pyramid like structure of all things sugary?

How are we showing our commitment to keeping fit? We are trying to persuade them to keep active at break, lunch times and after the school day is over. Do they see us doing that?

What can we do?

  • A large number of teachers keep in shape and it is important that they share this lifestyle choice with the pupils at every available opportunity, whether it be dropping into conversation that they went for a run the previous evening or that they are going to a Zumba session after school. It is important that they hear about how exercise can positively affect our lives, especially if they are not receiving this message at home.
  • As great as hearing about our efforts to keep fit can be, they are no match for pupils hearing about the wonderful experiences of their peers at sports clubs. We need to make time for pupils to inspire their classmates with stories of how their team came from behind to snatch a much needed draw at the weekend, how they swam in front of a huge crowd at their first swimming gala or how they met their new best friend when they bumped heads playing tag rugby. It is these stories which show that there is more to a sports club than simply practising a sport and it is these which will have pupils going home asking to join in the fun.
  • Some schools take the health and fitness of their staff just as seriously as their pupils and have walking/running clubs at lunchtime, many of which allow pupils to join in. What a fantastic way to bring pupils and adults in the school together working towards a common goal.
  • In fear of mass riots up and down the country (and because of a deep love for chocolate digestives), I won’t go as far as recommending a biscuit ban in the staffroom but let’s make sure these indulgences are confined to this sanctuary, away from the gaze of impressionable pupils. Or else the exaggerated tales of what lies behind the staffroom door may continue to inspire our pupils to join the profession for all the wrong reasons!
  • When teaching PE we should always aim to get involved as much as possible (even if only to justify wearing our tracksuit bottoms for the day). At my school, when we are doing our Striver tasks and challenges, the adults always have a go and see what score they can get. Many pupils have made beating their teacher’s score their priority for the year, grabbing any spare time they can to practise.
  • It is this competitive element which is key. We need to make sure we are facilitating competition, whether it be giving a pupil the opportunity to achieve a personal target or compete as part of a team. At my school, we are using Striver to allow pupils to track their development of skills and fitness levels by rewarding personal improvement as well as using these scores to feed into class and house team competitions. With lots of virtual medals and Striver certificates up for grabs, it has really captured their attention.

A commitment to changes like these can really add to the sporting culture at a school and if a pupil is attending a school which really values the importance of this, then a healthy lifestyle will be an easy path to follow.

Derek