picture of healthy food at school

Research Insights: Healthy Schools—an approach to implementing health and wellbeing knowledge

By Dr Jo Neary

healthy schools infographicIn this article, the first of a series, the Network for Social and Educational Equity (NSEE) team offers a snapshot of work we are currently undertaking with schools to help improve health and wellbeing (HWB) outcomes for pupils.

‘An adaptive programme that can benefit children throughout their years at primary school’ —that’s the feedback we got when we asked for insight from one school that has been using the Healthy Schools approach.

This approach aims to support children and families to look after and improve their health and wellbeing through a partnership approach designed to build healthy lives through action within and beyond the curriculum. This approach provides a HWB planning, delivery and evaluation framework that can be used by every teacher throughout the full academic year, every year from nursery through to P7.

It has been written by teachers from North and South Lanarkshire in conjunction with local NHS and health & social care staff to provide a co-ordinated, holistic approach to HWB in nurseries and primary schools.

Healthy Schools helps teachers to plan, deliver and evaluate HWB education for the whole academic session. It creates opportunities for collegiate planning and assessment and lets teachers use their professional judgement to differentiate learning and adapt pace, breadth and progression to specifically to meet the needs of their learners.

NSEE recently met with teachers from one primary school to discuss their experiences and what they felt they had gained from using Healthy Schools. The school in North Lanarkshire has been using the approach for two years now.

What did staff feel about using Healthy Schools?

The staff agreed they used Healthy Schools as the school HWB pathway and thus they were able to adapt the programme to reflect the needs of the school. Teachers enjoyed the flexibility as they felt it gave them space to add and amend elements where needed.

Because they are able to adapt Healthy Schools activities, the school can focus on issues, such as substance use, that are pertinent to the local community. Teachers added that Healthy Schools enabled a more substantive plan for the way health and wellbeing was taught throughout the school.

As one member of staff put it:

“Primary teachers have a massive range of areas to teach, and health and wellbeing is a massive, massive area. I think before we had this in place, particularly with the kids in primary seven, there was potentially gaps in their learning with the health and wellbeing curriculum… I think having something like this in place, you were ensuring that the full health and wellbeing curriculum was being covered.

“It made me aware there was going to be no gaps in the learning, because I knew exactly what I was supposed to be teaching and what areas I was supposed to be covering. (NQT).”

The overall organisation of the Healthy Schools programme was also seen as a benefit, particularly the way it was implemented in the school.

“… it brought together the outcomes, it grouped together the outcomes nicely, it helped you cover the whole curriculum, it brought together the wellbeing indicators, it brought in the rights, all these health and wellbeing indicators that we were meant to be covering, it brought them into a kind of framework that was looked at together.”

Connected to this, was the clustering of the curriculum into three areas:

“You look at what it’s like to be safe from a food and health point of view, from a physical education, activity and sports perspective, and what it’s like to be safe from a healthy lifestyles point of view. That would be a lot of thinking to do without that framework. It gives you the breadth as well as the depth of learning across the three years.”

Teachers said that they liked being able to build on learning throughout the pupil’s time at the school—that what someone learns in primary one is further developed in primary two and so on. The ability to engage with pupils on health and wellbeing as they progress through the school and check that they understand what they are learning was highlighted.

Whole school approach

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Another benefit was in the ‘continuity of approach’, staff told us. Healthy Schools ran from nursery to primary seven. All classes engaged in the same wellbeing indicator, with an assembly for everyone at the end of every month to summarise what they had learned.

One of the teachers described how helpful it was to hear the whole school talk about the same topics, and how it ensured the language permeated throughout the school:

“…it encompasses the full life of our school– assemblies, all school having the same focus each month, it very much is just part of the school…it’s not that we’re teaching health and wellbeing at this point, it’s that it’s what our school is about…”

The’ whole school’ approach was particularly useful for junior members of staff. For example, one newly qualified teacher described this as being her first experience of teaching health and wellbeing. Having discussions with staff members, focussed in-service days to share knowledge and reflect on things that have and have not worked, was also of use to those teachers who were seen as more reluctant to adopt the approach. Being able to look at what other staff members were teaching, sharing the learning experiences, and talking to teachers who were more confident in adapting it to their learners was a way to encourage other teachers to try it out.

“It’s like a domino effect sometimes, it can be a wee bit slow in some cases…but it’s definitely getting us there. We are quite a bit further on than we were a year ago.”

Resources for Healthy Schools

Generally, Healthy Schools resources were described as accessible and easy to follow. The website was described as a great way to get information, and staff appreciated that resources were routinely updated.

Some of the older members of staff had problems visualising the programme as all resources were online, and they were concerned about the amount of material available. To resolve this, a printed version of the resource booklet was made available, which proved helpful.

However, when staff do navigate the website, and are aware of what the programme involves, the website is seen as the best way to access information.

The progression planners strengthened the approach, teachers told us, as it was easy to understand and quick to read. It also helped to reassure teachers that all areas of the vast HWB curriculum were being covered. It indicates what and when they would be covering certain topics in the school year.

‘Taking the pressure off’

One teacher described it as, “taking the pressure off, as I know I won’t forget something”.

Current advice from Education Scotland and HMIe around assessment of health and wellbeing is to use teacher observations and formative assessments as well as getting the children to self-report, using systems such as pupil profiles and personal learning plans.

Pupil Learning logs have been created for every page of the Healthy Schools resource. Staff can plan periodic, holistic assessment of children’s learning in line with that guidance.

While staff members agree that learning logs are one of the “gems” of the approach, it is difficult to get staff on board as the learning logs required considerable change to the way staff had previously recorded pupil learning and progress in health and wellbeing.

Part of the issue is the perception that staff have about how to evidence learning. One staff member suggested that it is not actually an extensive piece of work, but it could be a conversation between a teacher and pupil relating to something like a drawing that the child had produced. If the pupil can reflect on what they have learned through discussion around the drawing, this would be evidence.

Impact on learners

The head teacher described pupils knowing the wellbeing indicators really well. They knew what the words meant and how this would look in their lives. This was reiterated by the deputy head teacher who said that the pupils now know what “safe, healthy, active” means, and that before Healthy Schools this may, “have just been a display on the wall that they might have looked at once in a while but not really understood”.

Through learning conversations with the pupils in the additional special needs department, teachers could see that the pupils were getting a grasp on health and wellbeing and could explain what they have learned.

Using additional resources

The Healthy Schools approach focuses whole school health and wellbeing education through all 8 SHANARRI wellbeing indicators, includes all of the Curriculum for Excellent health and wellbeing experiences and outcomes, and tracks progress against benchmarks. The mental, emotional, social and physical (MESP) experiences and outcomes are aligned through these 8 wellbeing indicators and are embedded throughout the programme.

For those schools that need to work on more specific or focused areas of MESPs, the structure of Healthy Schools is flexible enough to incorporate other resources.

One teacher reflected on the wider community their school sits in, and noted:

[Social and emotional wellbeing]…that’s one of the massive parts, it’s what we do on a daily basis. It’s what our children need to be able to access the rest of the curriculum on a daily basis. That is key for our kids to be learning. But they now run in tandem.” 

So the school is also using activities from another three resources: 

  • growth mindset 
  • five ways to wellbeing (NHS) 
  • a three-year programme on resilience.  

All three of these resources run in tandem with the Healthy Schools approach and allow the school to further support pupils based on needs identified within cluster level Realigning Children’s Services reports, match priorities within School Improvement Plans and are specific to the needs of the learners.

The NSEE team is collecting data from various schools in North and South Lanarkshire, and an evaluation report on the Healthy Schools programme will be published later in 2020.