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Health makes for better schools

A three-year project to make health promotion an integral part of school life has produced improvements in children's behaviour and self-esteem, writes Nicolas Barnard.

Primary schools which joined the European Network of Health Promoting Schools found bullying reduced, a report by the National Foundation for Educational Research said. Staff were also happier as their working environment improved, it suggested.

And becoming a health-promoting school is a natural way of improving effectiveness, co-ordinators of the scheme suggest.

More than 2,500 schools in 37 countries across Europe took part in the project, overseen by the World Health Organisation. In England, 16 were designated pilot schools, with funding and support for staff development and other initiatives. Another 32 were tracked as "reference schools".

The aim was to find ways of making health promotion a built-in feature of the school and its ethos, rather than something bolted on to the curriculum.

Schools were asked to address their whole environment. Pupils' self-esteem received particular attention - schools recognised that without self-confidence, it was harder for pupils to take responsibility for their own healthy behaviour. Many primaries gave pupils a greater say in school life.

But schools were also urged to address staff issues and find ways for parents and the wider community to become more involved.

The Government, in its education White Paper, has already suggested the benefits for both health and education of involving schools in health promotion.

Mary Hickman, a member of the Health Education Authority team which co-ordinated the English project, said: "It is very similar to some school effectiveness initiatives. If you get a staff feeling supported and loved, with their management behind them, and pupils who feel they are part of the school, then the school must be more effective."

The network is one of just a number of health promotion schemes being carried out by schools across the country.

The HEA is now waiting to see if funding will be continued after the three-year scheme officially ends next March.

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