Features: June 5th, 2009

Schools have an important role to play in promoting the physical and mental health of children, but often they are held back by a lack of facilities. The aim of the National Healthy Schools Programme is to give support and encouragement to pump prime change. But change also depends on the school, its governors, staff and above all on the parents. This is an example of the power that parents can wield in creating a healthy physical and mental environment for their children.

Parents at Little Dewchurch CE Primary School in Hereford have taken a very hands-on approach to supporting physical activity throughout the school day, by helping to plan and build a new, high-quality P.E. facility for the school, which has completely revolutionised the school’s sports provision.

Using the framework provided by the National Healthy Schools Programme as a backdrop for encouraging children to get more active at school, the school has recently leased a new field from the Duchy of Cornwall, and developed it into an impressive new facility which the whole the school community has helped to plan and create – including children, staff and parents.

Promoting close consultation and dialogue with parents is an integral part of the Healthy Schools ethos, and at Little Dewchurch, this close partnership with parents has proven to be a real driving force for the creation of a safe, accessible play space for the school’s children and young people.

Headteacher Sue Sumner says, “Little Dewchurch is a very small school, with just 47 children currently on roll, but our parents have taken a very hands on approach and got involved in making the land habitable and in creating our new high-quality changing facilities. Not only did they source a lottery grant of £10,000 to help fund it, but they raised a further £3,000 doing a trolley dash at a local supermarket.”

The parents also worked as a team to order new huts with pitched roofs to use as changing rooms and actually constructed them, even through some quite poor weather. A core group of parents also gave up their weekends and utilised their individual skills. For instance, some of the dads spearheaded the building work: some helped out with walls and roofs, and others came with a digger to lay the foundations.

Mrs Sumner adds, “I think the parents at our school have really felt empowered and demonstrate how the whole school community genuinely has a ‘voice’ and can play a vital part in making some dramatic changes to the school environment. Seeing the children’s faces when I first got the keys and unlocked the gates was certainly very rewarding for us all; they all raced over and couldn’t believe the renewed space and freedom.”

“As part of being a Healthy School, we want to encourage physical activity as an integral part of an active lifestyle, helping our children to remain happy, healthy and ready to learn. Getting them outside in the fresh air, rather than being confined to the school hall, has really had a remarkable impact and has helped make that vision possible.

“Since building our new facilities, we’ve also been able to extend our range of sports provision, even linking up with a tag rugby coach from the local Hereford Academy, the school we officially feed to. The school now holds a weekly football club, which we couldn’t have done before, and we regularly host friendly matches with other schools.

“In the past, we wasted a lot of time travelling to and from sports venues, but having these facilities on our doorstep means that now the actual sports sessions are longer, and we can make the most of any good weather!”

The facilities have also had a big impact on school Sports Days. Previously the cost and logistics of transporting everyone to another school was proving ineffective, but last Autumn Little Dewchurch held its first ‘mini Olympics’ which was linked to the 2008 Games in Beijing. The children were able to try out (foam) javelin throwing and various track races on home turf for the first time, alongside their own prize-giving ceremony. The school’s Olympics were also tied into other classroom learning, such as links with a topic on Ancient Greece.

Mrs Sumner concludes, “To me, it’s very evident that it’s not only the children’s physical health but also their emotional wellbeing that has benefited. Moreover, it has also has a positive impact amongst their whole families. At a time when people lead such busy lives, it’s been absolutely great to see our parents so committed to taking the time out to get actively involved in promoting healthier living, and it’s taught the children a lot about the difference that teamwork and co-operation can make. This, in turn, has been a great lesson in terms of building their own motivation, self-confidence, community mindedness and work ethic.

“All in all, the new school field and changing facilities have had a massive impact and are really helping us to move forward as a Healthy School which actively embraces physical activity and promotes positive behaviour patterns for later life.”

For more information about the National Healthy Schools Programme, please visit www.healthyschools.gov.uk