Putting the Health Back in Education

Thursday, February 3, 2011

In December 2009, the Macdonald Report that looked at health education concluded "it is essential for all children and young people to have an entitlement to a common core of knowledge, skills and understanding in PSHE [Personal, Social, Health and Economic] education. The depth and range of this learning experience should no longer be determined solely by individual schools and teachers".  Health education is a highly topical issue not least because it can play a central role in introducing children to a healthy, equitable, and inclusive psychological and physical environment. When implemented properly, health education can deliver benefits that cross-cut government departments and, more broadly, wider societal imperatives. This is particularly the case in terms of improving public health; equipping people with the knowledge and education to live healthy lives; and ensuring economic productivity is not undermined by unhealthy lifestyles. It is therefore an issue that should be of interest and importance to a wide range of different stakeholders. Moreover, the issue, and policy imperative, that is healthy living and public health is a stated priority of the new Coalition Government's health and education policy, and something both the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats have paid significant attention to over recent years. As is stated in The Coalition: Our Agreement for Government document: "The Government believes that we need action to promote public health, and encourage behaviour change to help people live healthier lives. We need an ambitious strategy to prevent ill-health which harnesses innovative techniques to help people take responsibility for their own health". This has been reaffirmed in the Government‟s recently published Public Health White Paper, "Healthy lives, healthy people: our strategy for public health in England", which states: "This is a new era for public health, with a higher priority and dedicated resources".  However, the current economic climate and new "Age of Austerity" means that an increasing emphasis is now being placed on the cost-effectiveness and the sustainability of all departmental budgets and therefore health education programmes. This is most notably exemplified by the terms of reference of the new Office for Budget Responsibility and the provisions laid down by the Chancellor, George Osborne MP, and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander MP, in the recent Comprehensive Spending Review. Allied to this point is the fact that children‟s education is under growing public scrutiny. It therefore follows that teaching in this area must be underpinned by evidence and results delivering outcomes that are clear, accountable and measurable.   The most recent National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) results show that in Reception almost one in four children is either overweight or obese. By Year 6, this rises to nearly one in three. More than 50% of pupils aged between 11 and 15 years have experimented with alcohol, and in 2008 the average amount of alcohol consumed by pupils who had drunk in the last week was 14.6 units.  In 2008, 22% of pupils admitted to taking drugs, with 15% reporting drug use in the last year and 8% in the last month. In 2007, the number of pregnancies recorded in women under the age of 18 rose from 41,768 in 2006 to 42,918. In 2007, there were 8,196 pregnancies among girls under 16, compared with 7,826 in 2006 (three-quarters of the girls were aged 15 when they fell pregnant).