Step on it

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
Take a headteacher, a teaching assistant and a head of PE, give them pedometers to record who is the most active during a typical day - and who will be cock of the walk? Nick Morrison finds out

Your boots were made for walking - that is, unless they were particularly expensive, in which case they were probably only made for admiring - but how much walking do they actually do? You might think that teaching is one of the more active professions, as you're on your feet in front of the class most of the day, but is all that physical effort just an illusion?

To find out, The TES Magazine challenged staff at John Spence Community College in North Tyneside to strap pedometers to their waistbands to see how many steps they took in the course of a normal working day.

The 11-16 school of around 850 pupils is housed in one three-storey building, so there are plenty of steps to climb up and down, but no need to trek between buildings, apart from the separate sports hall and arts block.

The headteacher, head of PE and a teaching assistant wore the step-counters during the day. We asked them to try to behave as normally as possible, and not to try to bump up their total (which request, it turns out, might not have been followed as closely as it could have been). They then recorded how many paces they had taken.

Bearing in mind that experts say we should be aiming for 10,000 steps a day, the results of our trial were: Jim Stephenson (headteacher) 4,068 steps; Adam Greener (teaching assistant) 8,719 steps; John Douglas (head of PE) 15,784 steps.

The headteacher's effort falls between the adult average range of 3,500-5,500 steps a day, but the difference between his and the head of PE's is quite striking. With 2,000 steps roughly equal to a mile, John covered about five and a half miles more than his headteacher.

However, a head of PE might be considered to be at an unfair advantage, and it is one he appears to have had no hesitation in exploiting, according to Bobby Graham, director of sport at John Spence and the organiser of our test. "Mr Douglas is very competitive, and the fact that he was being monitored probably motivated him to take a more active part in lessons,"

Bobby explains. "I know he played badminton with some students, and on another day he wouldn't necessarily have done that. Dashing around the badminton court is going to bump up the figures."

For Adam, the teaching assistant, 8,000 steps is not far short of his daily target, and that is without including any walking outside school.

John Spence was one of the schools that took part in the pilot Schools on the Move project last spring and summer. Pupils in 53 schools were given pedometers and asked to log the number of steps they took on a baseline day. They were then encouraged to set targets to increase their daily rate, using a website which also offered tips on becoming more active.

Last month, the Department of Health announced it was expanding the scheme, providing funding to equip 250 schools with a total of 45,000 pedometers from September.

Carol Hawman, of the Youth Sport Trust, which runs Schools on the Move, says step counts increased by an average of 97 per cent in the pilot but, among pupils considered to be least active, they increased by 121 per cent.

Schools where the teachers also wore the pedometers showed the highest rate of increase.

"The pupils were going in and asking their teacher how many steps they had taken," Carol says. "We weren't promoting it as a competition, but inevitably you get a bit of friendly rivalry. Some staff also realised how little activity they were doing.

"The principal aim was to increase the level of physical activity, and to raise awareness of how much they should be doing and the benefits of being active."

According to figures produced by the British Heart Foundation, 37 per cent of deaths from coronary heart disease are caused by a lack of physical activity, and 68 per cent of adults don't take enough exercise to benefit their health.

Anna Chalkley, young people project officer at the foundation's national centre for physical activity and health, says the advantage of promoting walking as a way to improve health is that almost everyone can do it fairly easily, and pedometers can provide an important motivation.

"Wearing a pedometer increases your awareness of how much physical activity you are doing, and you can see how much difference you can make with small changes to your daily lifestyle," she says.

"It's not that you can't take exercise without them, but they can have an initial motivating effect."


HEADTEACHER 4,068 steps

There is no such thing as a normal day for a headteacher. This one was probably more structured than most in that there were very few 'emergencies' requiring my attention.

"I'm not surprised I recorded fewer steps than my colleagues but I do try to spend a lot of time on my feet when I can. I try to make walks around the school corridors during lesson time a regular feature during my working week. I think it's important for a head regularly to 'take the temperature'

of the school and to be a presence in the building. I also managed to drink two or three cups of coffee during the day while doing other things.



This was a normal day for me consisting of one cover lesson, a withdrawal lesson and three support lessons. I was surprised by the number of steps I had made and, adding to that, I would usually have a lunchtime duty on the Astroturf, where I would maybe add on another 1,000 steps.

"It brought me great pleasure to see that I had done nearly twice as many steps as the head. It also showed me how competitive Mr Douglas was, as I caught him jumping up and down on the spot on a number of occasions to up his total. He also played badminton all morning, therefore beating me.


HEAD OF PE 15,784 steps

We had done work on steps and pedometers before and I had regularly clocked up over 14,000 steps in a normal day, so I wasn't surprised, but for an active adult you need to be recording between 15,000 and 20,000 steps a day to influence your health. To do that I would have to join in more of the pulse-raising activities we do in the lessons and also measure my heart rate to make sure I was within a training zone.

"It does go to prove that just because you are teaching PE, it doesn't automatically follow that you will be doing lots of activity, even though it was substantially more than the other participants."

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