Health and Wellbeing

To nurture the skills of resilience is key to providing young people with the ability to cope with stress, adversity, failure and challenges. Resilience is evident when young people have a greater ability to “bounce back” when faced with difficulties and achieve positive outcomes.

Resilience is required to resist the attraction of unhealthy foods and to relish the challenge of physical pursuits.

School is recognised as an important setting for forming or changing health behaviours. Schools can facilitate good health behaviours and outcomes, enabling children to make healthy rather than unhealthy lifestyle choices.

Obesity, healthy eating and physical activity

The importance of educating young people about a healthy diet and physical activity is a number one public health priority in order to turn the tide of obesity. According to Public Health England, a record number of children are leaving primary school severely obese and are facing a life that’s limited in quality and expectancy.

Data for 2016/17 indicated that more than 22,000 children between the age of 10 – 11 were severely obese. Although levels of childhood obesity have remained fairly stable in recent years, severe obesity has been on an upward trend over the last decade.

Obesity in children happens for complex reasons. Every child is influenced by many factors and although there is not a full understanding of how these factors interacts when it comes to individual children, the messages reaching children need to consistently reinforce the importance of choices that lead to better health. Without this, the attractions of sugar, fat and inactivity will more often win the day over healthier choices.

Schools have an important role to play in reinforcing these messages. They also have responsibility for a curriculum that gives children a solid body of knowledge about healthy living and the skill to pursue it. Children need to learn how our bodies work, why physical health is important and how to prepare food. They need to grow in competence in sport and physical pursuits so that being active is enjoyable for them as well as challenging.

By the end of primary school pupils should know:

Health and prevention

  • how to recognise early signs of physical illness, such as weight loss, or unexplained changes to the body.
  • about safe and unsafe exposure to the sun, and how to reduce the risk of sun damage, including skin cancer.
  • the importance of sufficient good quality sleep for good health and that a lack of sleep can affect weight, mood and ability to learn.
  • about dental health and the benefits of good oral hygiene and dental flossing, including regular check-ups at the dentist.
  • about personal hygiene and germs including bacteria, viruses, how they are spread and treated, and the importance of handwashing.
  • the facts and science relating to immunisation and vaccination

Changing adolescent body

  • key facts about puberty and the changing adolescent body, particularly from age 9 through to age 11, including physical and emotional changes.
  • about menstrual wellbeing including the key facts about the menstrual cycle.

By the end of secondary school pupils should know:

Health and prevention

  • about personal hygiene, germs including bacteria, viruses, how they are spread, treatment and prevention of infection, and about antibiotics.
  • about dental health and the benefits of good oral hygiene and dental flossing, including healthy eating and regular check-ups at the dentist.
  • (late secondary) the benefits of regular self-examination and screening.
  • the facts and science relating to immunisation and vaccination.
  • the importance of sufficient good quality sleep for good health and how a lack of sleep can affect weight, mood and ability to learn.

Changing adolescent body

  • key facts about puberty, the changing adolescent body and menstrual wellbeing.
  • the main changes which take place in males and females, and the implications for emotional and physical health.
  • The aim of teaching pupils about physical health and mental wellbeing is to give them the information that they need to make good decisions about their own health and wellbeing. It should enable them to recognise what is normal and what is an issue in themselves and others and, when issues arise, know how to seek support as early as possible from appropriate sources.
  • Physical health and mental wellbeing are interlinked, and it is important that pupils understand that good physical health contributes to good mental wellbeing, and vice versa.
  • It is important for schools to promote pupils’ self-control and ability to self-regulate, and strategies for doing so. This will enable them to become confident in their ability to achieve well and persevere even when they encounter setbacks or when their goals are distant, and to respond calmly and rationally to setbacks and challenges. This integrated, whole-school approach to the teaching and promotion of health and wellbeing has a potential positive impact on behaviour and attainment.
  • Effective teaching should aim to reduce stigma attached to health issues, in particular those to do with mental wellbeing. Schools should engender an atmosphere that encourages openness. This will mean that pupils feel they can check their understanding and seek any necessary help and advice as they gain knowledge about how to promote good health and wellbeing.
  • Schools have flexibility to design and plan age-appropriate subject content, but this guidance sets out core areas for health and wellbeing that are appropriate for primary and secondary aged pupils.
  • Puberty including menstruation should be covered in Health Education and should, as far as possible, be addressed before onset. This should ensure male and female pupils are prepared for changes they and their peers will experience.
  • The onset of menstruation can be confusing or even alarming for girls if they are not prepared. Pupils should be taught key facts about the menstrual cycle including what is an average period, range of menstrual products and the implications for emotional and physical health. In addition to curriculum content, schools should also make adequate and sensitive arrangements to help girls prepare for and manage menstruation including with requests for menstrual products. Schools will need to consider the needs of their cohort of pupils in designing this content.
  • The focus in primary school should be on teaching the characteristics of good physical health and mental wellbeing. Teachers should be clear that mental wellbeing is a normal part of daily life, in the same way as physical health.
  • This starts with pupils being taught about the benefits and importance of daily exercise, good nutrition and sufficient sleep, and giving pupils the language and knowledge to understand the normal range of emotions that everyone experiences. This should enable pupils to articulate how they are feeling, develop the language to talk about their bodies, health and emotions and judge whether what they are feeling and how they are behaving is appropriate and proportionate for the situations that they experience.
  • Teachers should go on to talk about the steps pupils can take to protect and support their own and others’ health and wellbeing, including simple self-care techniques, personal hygiene, prevention of health and wellbeing problems and basic first aid.
  • Emphasis should be given to the positive two-way relationship between good physical health and good mental wellbeing, and the benefits to mental wellbeing of physical exercise and time spent outdoors.
  • Pupils should also be taught the benefits of hobbies, interests and participation in their own communities. This teaching should make clear that people are social beings and that spending time with others, taking opportunities to consider the needs of others and practising service to others, including in organised and structured activities and groups (for example the scouts or girl guide movements), are beneficial for health and wellbeing.
  • Pupils should be taught about the benefits of rationing time spent online and the risks of excessive use of electronic devices. In later primary school, pupils should be taught why social media, computer games and online gaming have age restrictions and should be equipped to manage common difficulties encountered online.
  • A firm foundation in the benefits and characteristics of good health and wellbeing will enable teachers to talk about isolation, loneliness, unhappiness, bullying and the negative impact of poor health and wellbeing.
  • It is important that the starting point for health and wellbeing education should be a focus on enabling pupils to make well-informed, positive choices for themselves. In secondary school, teaching should build on primary content and should introduce new content to older pupils at appropriate points. This should enable pupils to understand how their bodies are changing, how they are feeling and why, to further develop the language that they use to talk about their bodies, health and emotions and to understand why terms associated with mental and physical health difficulties should not be used pejoratively. This knowledge should enable pupils to understand where normal variations in emotions and physical complaints end and health and wellbeing issues begin.
  • Teaching about the impact of puberty, which will have started in primary school, should continue in secondary school, so that pupils are able to understand the physical and emotional changes, which take place at this time and their impact on their wider health and wellbeing.
  • Emphasis should continue to be given to steps pupils can take to protect and support their own health and wellbeing. They should know that there is a relationship between good physical health and good mental wellbeing and that this can also influence their ability to learn. Teachers should cover self-care, the benefits of physical activity and time spent outdoors. This should be linked to information on the benefits of sufficient sleep, good nutrition and strategies for building resilience.
  • Pupils should know the contribution that hobbies, interests and participation in their own communities can make to overall wellbeing. They should understand that humans are social beings and that outward-facing activity, especially that with a service focus (for example, work, volunteering and participation in organisations such as the scouts or the girl guiding movements, the National Citizen Service or the Duke of Edinburgh Award) are beneficial for wellbeing. This can also contribute to the development of the attributes for a happy and successful adult life. Pupils should be supported to recognise what makes them feel lonely. Self-focused or isolating lifestyle choices can lead to unhappiness and being disconnected from society for those who have greater need for companionship and relationships.
  • Pupils should also be taught about problems and challenges. This should include factual information about the prevalence and characteristics of more serious mental and physical health conditions, drugs, alcohol and information about effective interventions. Schools may also choose to teach about issues such as eating disorders
  • Teachers should be aware of common ‘adverse childhood experiences’ (such as family breakdown, bereavement and exposure to domestic violence) and when and how these may be affecting any of their pupils and so may be influencing how they experience these subjects. The impact of time spent online, the positive aspects of online support and negotiating social media, including online forums and gaming, should also be included. Teachers should understand that pupils who have experienced problems at home may depend more on schools for support.
  • Pupils should be taught how to judge when they, or someone they know, needs support and where they can seek help if they have concerns. This should include details on which adults in school (e.g. school nurses), and externally can help.

General health and wellbeing support for schools here includes providing topic based summaries and resources. If there is a topic that you would like us to focus on, please contact us.