Emily Marchant, Charlotte Todd, Danielle Christian, Richard Tyler, Gareth Stratton, and Sinead Brophy – Swansea University
Good health and wellbeing of children is very important to maximising achievement, employment opportunities, and their subsequent health and wellbeing as adults. It is seen that schools are ideally positioned to drive change and help to reduce inequalities in health and education. But with a greater focus being placed on literacy and numeracy in the classroom by educational inspectors, the health and wellbeing needs of the children are not being met, and schools are feeling isolated when attempting to address these shortfalls.
To overcome this; a partnership approach was needed, bringing together a range of professionals from various fields to address the health needs as well as the educational outcomes and school needs of the children.
To tackle this challenge a project team based at Swansea University developed a network partnership called HAPPEN (Health and Attainment of Pupils involved in a Primary Education Network). The network consists of professionals working in; health, education, and research.
HAPPEN focuses on children aged 9-11 years completing health and wellbeing assessments as part of the Swan-Linx project; whereby data is collected on body mass index (BMI), fitness, nutrition, physical activity, sleep, wellbeing, concentration, and child recommendations on improving health in their area.
Data was gathered from 2500 children in the Swansea area. Working with the SAIL Databank, which removes the identities of participants in the study to protect their privacy and to comply with all data protection rules, Farr Institute researchers were able to link and study child health behaviour data, health records (including: GP records, hospital admissions, etc.) and education data (including: educational attainment Key Stage 1 and 2).
Researchers then used this data to provide feedback reports to the schools, and organisations (dieticians, sport development, local charities, and public health professionals). The reports were written in line with the curriculum framework to ensure the children’s learning is enhanced, and to enable schools to see how they compare with other schools in their county to identify areas of need, for example; high percentages of children not eating breakfast.
On-going support and advice is provided to the schools via the HAPPEN website, which gives teaching staff access to resources which they can use to improve health and wellbeing interventions and ensure curriculum needs are also being met.
The use of consultation, engagement and collaboration has enabled the network’s success to date and the number of schools joining the network is continuing to grow.
The partnership between schools, health professionals and NCPHWR researchers provides a more unified and evidence based approach to help tackle child health, well-being and education.
A deputy head teacher, from a Swansea primary school commented:
“When receiving our data pack, we were concerned to discover that in year 5 and 6, approximately a third of our children were overweight and that despite our school outperforming the average shuttle score across schools, there were some children who struggled to run nine shuttles (9 × 20 metres). Additionally, 38% of children reported they were not happy with their fitness. Despite the school placing great emphasis on health, fitness and wellbeing, we clearly needed to increase the profile by putting it into our School Development Plan. We have increased the opportunities that children receive. We have reflected on our PE lessons and planned to bring more active elements to other lessons, such as spelling, where children run to match up words with phonemes. Finally, children are managing their own fitness, through working with partners to set personal goals”.