Health advice: programme coordinator a wholesome career move

Why did you become a ‘Healthy Schools’ coordinator?
Serendipity. I was working as deputy head in a local primary school and personal, social and health education (PSHE): healthy schools fell under that remit. I was enthusiastic and volunteered for the local healthy schools management group, presenting items at network meetings. When the coordinator took up a secondment I was approached by the local authority to do the job for one day a week. I didn’t go looking for the role but I suddenly found myself doing it and loving every minute. After a year, I was asked to go full time and after some soul searching - and a tough interview process - went for it. About 18 months ago I was approached by the Kingston and Richmond scheme to ask if I’d coordinate all three boroughs.

What does your role entail?
The basic aim is to get as many schools as possible gaining national healthy school status (NHSS), which means that they’re committed to improving the health and wellbeing of their whole school community. We have stringent local, regional and governmental targets that we have to meet. I audit schools’ practice and liaise with local agencies such as school nurses and the school sports partnerships. I attend meetings and feed into local plans and strategies such as obesity and teenage pregnancy. Working across three boroughs means these meetings are often in triplicate so I have to organise my time carefully. I also run the PSHE programme for teachers and community nurses across the three boroughs and run termly Every Child Matters network days in each area. I run a management group in each borough and organise the quality assurance group meetings.

What’s best about your role?
Talking to school councils. They’re so candid and often much wiser than we give them credit for. I was also incredibly proud recently when the head of children’s learning from Governemnt Office for London visited one of our secondary schools. The students were amazing and the school was a shining example of how a proper healthy school should be. It was a measure of what London teenagers can achieve given the right support.

What’s worst?
Too many emails and too much data crunching. I have to be aware of numbers and data across the three boroughs and I get almost daily requests for data and percentages. Plus, the emotional roller coaster of making changes to school meals has been hard work.

What’s the biggest challenge?
The difficult bit is keeping so many plates spinning. One minute I’ll be taking a phone call from a parent concerned about sex education in their child’s school and the next I’m writing a piece for our newsletter, planning a progress meeting or visiting a school. I find I have to be extremely organised in order to fulfil everything. Secondary schools are very complex places and it sometimes challenging to make change happen.

What are your plans for the future?
I’m enjoying what I do at the moment and I’ve been lucky to have been chosen for this role. I’ll go with the flow and see what happens next.

Why should others think about becoming a healthy schools coordinator?
If you’re passionate about the health and wellbeing of children and young people, this is the perfect way to make difference. I don’t have school holidays any more and that’s absolutely fine. You need to be very organised and after being in teaching, the looseness of the day is a shock. People skills are key.