Free to feel good

17th January 2003 at 00:00
Modern life is not always conducive to healthy living, but schools can be

Being a healthy school," says Peter Whistler, head of Twydall junior school in Gillingham, Kent, "is not just about eating apples." Five daily portions of fruit and veg certainly help, but, says Mr Whistler, committing to the idea means a revolution. Twydall, in common with the other healthy schools in Medway council's scheme, is looking out for all aspects of children's physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Twydall's makeover started with an audit of healthy and unhealthy habits - among individuals and as an institution - and the findings inform the school's improvement plan.

Water coolers have been installed, giving children easy access to water, and the dinner hall is changing to a cafeteria-type system, colour-coded for health, with sandwiches and salads available alongside hot meals. A breakfast club ensures early arrivals get a nutritious start to the day, and in the summer an outdoor healthy tuck shop stocks snacks such as fruit and cereal bars.

The school has boosted the number of clubs for younger children, who felt they were missing out on after-school sport and creative activities, while in the classroom, the PSHE curriculum has been revamped and daily circle time has been timetabled into all classes, giving pupils the chance to talk over issues that are on their minds. At playtime, older children have been trained as playground "buddies" to watch out for bullying or other problems, and a part of the playground has been set aside for quiet games.

All this has been done in close consultation with students and parents. Both groups are pleased with the changes. "After all, school is not just about learning, but teaching children to mix well, and have good relationships," says Debra Harrold, whose daughter Elizabeth is in Year 5, and who sits on the healthy school working party.

Year 6 pupils Max Warwick and Carys Hartley are members of the school council, help run the tuck shop, and keep an eye on the playground. They also took part in a recent Medway school councils conference on wellbeing, as a result of which they created a "What to do if..." noticeboard, helping with problems such as bullying and exam stress.

Along with plenty of other students, they also join in the school's voluntary, weekly non-chocolate days. "Because I don't want to rot my teeth," says Max.

"All the children have become so much more knowledgeable about health," says Twydall's healthy school co-ordinator, teacher Pauline Wellard. "It affects the whole feeling within the school." About one pupil in 10 at Twydall is physically disabled, and Peter Whistler stresses that this is a key consideration in the school's health programme. "An open, inclusive society is a healthy one," he says.

Forty-six of Medway's 112 schools have so far signed up for the healthy schools scheme, and others are queuing to be included. Under government guidelines, all schools in England and Wales have to be signed up to a healthy schools programme by 2004. The difficulty, says Jane Bolton, healthy schools support co-ordinator, is getting around to them to do the initial induction.

At Twydall, as at many schools, money for health activities comes from a variety of sources, including education action zone budgets and the New Opportunities Fund. The single most expensive item so far has been the water coolers, which cost the school about pound;2,000 a year, but with pupils who are more alert and confident and doing better in their national tests, it is money well spent. With all local authorities and many schools already involved, healthy schools are shaping up to be more than just a slogan.

ONES TO WATCH

Mapledene early years centre, Hackney Organic food for the under-fives

National schools fruit scheme Free piece of fruit for every schoolchild under six by 2004

Healthy schools scheme 14,000 schools enrolled in 30 months

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