AS DRUGS and sex continue to grab the headlines on health education (see below, right) HMI this week urged schools to avoid concentrating narrowly on health risks and embrace the wider concept of health promotion. Current practice across Scotland is "very variable", the inspectors found.
Their report is the fifth in a series on health matters to have been issued in recent years, but the first to be launched by an education minister. Health is becoming more important.
During a visit to Cardinal Newman High in North Lanarkshire, Sam Galbraith placed health promotion firmly on the Scottish Executive's standards agenda. "The link between health and education is clear," he said. "The health and well-being of children and young people affect their confidence to learn and ability to achieve."
Cardinal Newman is one of 11 schools in six education authorities surveyed by HMI as embodying good practice. Mr Galbraith paid tribute to its "long record of health promotion which exemplifies much of what we want to see in schools across Scotland."
Laurie Byrne, the acting head, said they had taken the decision to make health promotion a central feature of the school a few years ago because of the serious health problems facing the area. Many of Cardinal Newman's approaches are now emulated in other schools - a "no chips" day every week, marketing fruit and salad, a ban on sugary drinks, contributions from health professionals. "But we also ensure health promotion permeates the curriculum through PE, home economics and science," Mr Byrne says.
The HMI found that "councils and schools generally accept the importance of health promotion, but not all have accorded it high priority yet." The inspectors urge all schools to become health promoting.
The HMI survey of existing practice came up with an extensive list of features in a good health promoting school, from effective personal and social education to healthy lunch clubs, and from health board involvement to encouraging staff to be "health role models".
The report acknowledges, however, that the aim of becoming a health promoting school should not be "so demanding that it becomes overwhelming". Mr Osler says schools will need "the active, continuing support of the local council, parents, the wider community and a wide range of external agencies."
The inspectors found in the 11 schools that, as with all HMI reports, "committed strategic leadership" by the headteacher was a key factor in the schools' good practice.
But so was staff commitment to health promotion.
Progress cannot be taken for granted, however, as changes of headteacher and other key staff can lead to "a loss of momentum and consistency" - something that happened in two of the 11 schools.
Leader, page 18