Features: December 12th, 2008

The Government target that at least 85 per cent of children and young people spend a minimum of two hours a week in high-quality PE and sport by 2008 has been achieved. This is up from 25 per cent in 2002. But more needs to be done. Thinking outside the box has shown that it is possible to promote physical activity to all students by introducing alternative opportunities for physical activities which run separately from PE lessons.

Students and staff at Norton Hill Secondary School in North East Somerset have just been invited to partner with the Department of Health in creating and launching ‘Thinking Outside the PE Box’, an innovative new resource for secondary schools which explores how to improve physical activity amongst teenage students.

The ‘Thinking Outside the PE Box’ interactive DVD and supporting Information Pack, which is presented by the students and staff themselves, illustrates how the school has successfully encouraged students to be more active as part of their work with the National Healthy Schools Programme.

The idea was first born when Kate Truscott, Head of PSHE and the Healthy Schools Co-ordinator at Norton Hill School, arranged for an audit to be carried out as part of their work towards achieving National Healthy Schools Status. Physical activity was highlighted as a priority area for improvement.

Peter Beaven, Head Teacher at Norton Hill School explains, “We became increasingly aware that some of our students were not doing the minimum weekly amount of physical activity required, which simply had to change. It’s an issue for many secondary schools, but as staff we began to really consider new approaches to tackling it.”

Nationally, the Government has now achieved its ambitious target for ensuring at least 85% of children and young people spend a minimum of two hours a week in high-quality PE and sport by 2008, up from just 25% in 2002, with a further priority to motivate the remaining 15% into participation by offering alternative physical activities in school.

Supplementing PE

In line with this, the school decided to proactively promote physical activity to all its students, and that the best way to do this was to introduce some alternative opportunities for physical activities which could run separately from PE lessons.

Kate Truscott explains, “Often physical activity is a much more natural part of the school day in primary education than in secondary, and the main challenge and target for us was to engage our older Year 10 and 11 students. Especially the girls who often don’t see themselves as ‘sporty’. I felt that if we could provide activities to successfully cater to their interests and engage them in sports, then we could achieve anything!”

The school consulted with students to identify a range of alternative physical activities which had a wide appeal, including yoga, pilates, dancing, skipping, walking and break-dancing. Dave Burston, Partnership Development Manager at the School Sports Partnership was also heavily involved in supporting the school through this process, and worked closely with form tutors to help introduce a range of these popular activities into tutor times.

Kate explains, “We put together a ‘how to’ pack to be used by the school’s tutors that contained step by step details about running these new activities in tutor times, such as all the necessary details like how long sessions should run for, and what resources they would need.

Getting results

“Now each week as part of class tutor times, pupils and staff experience a rolling programme of different activities that are helping them to get them more active, and we have been seeing some really fantastic results.”

As well as the obvious longer term health benefits of increasing physical activity and fitness levels amongst students and staff, since introducing the initiative, tutors at the school have also noticed significant improvements in behaviour and in relationships within peer groups, as well as greater levels of student motivation and concentration in the lessons immediately following these sessions.

The initiative has proven incredibly popular amongst young people at the school. One student commented, “I really enjoy doing something that’s not just work at school. Its good fun – and it gets me in the right mood for my next lesson.”

And these activities aren’t just confined to tutor times, through a range of additional after school classes, students are also encouraged to explore and develop these interests further.

Norton Hill soon began to be approached by other local schools for advice about how they could run a similar initiative, and before long the school found themselves reproducing their training package as an interactive toolkit available on DVD for secondary schools, with funding support from The Department of Health.

The ‘Thinking Outside the PE Box’ DVD is now available FREE of cost to any school, and can be ordered via the Healthy Schools online shop at www.healthyschools.gov.uk/shop

For more information about the ‘Thinking Outside the PE Box’ initiative please contact Judy Allies, Local Healthy Schools Co-ordinator for Bath and North East Somerset on 01225 394181 or email: judy_allies@bathnes.gov.uk