The government has said primary schools should provide at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day for pupils under a new strategy to tackle child obesity.
The Department of Health today published its “Childhood obesity: a plan for action” which includes a raft of implications for schools.
The strategy states primaries should deliver 30 minutes of “moderate to vigorous” activity for pupils every day through active break times, extra-curricular physical education (PE) clubs and active lessons – with parents responsible for providing another daily 30 minutes.
The government expects schools to pay for this using cash from a sugar tax levy that will double the primary school physical education premium, including £10 million to fund breakfast clubs. Ofsted will now assess how school leaders are using this cash.
A new voluntary “healthy schools rating scheme” will also be introduced from September next year.
The government’s strategy has been roundly criticised for not going far enough tackle obesity, with some commentators saying the burden has been lumped on schools.
The expectation of extra physical activity for pupils also comes after Schools Week reported how the government believes sites for new free schools don’t need playing fields or playgrounds.
James Bowen, director of middle leaders’ union NAHT Edge, said this is concerning, adding: “Suitable outdoor space should be a part of any new school building.”
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, added: “Once again the Government’s thinking is not joined up – if it wants children to do more exercise it should stop allowing free schools to open in buildings without any outside space for children to run around and not allow schools to sell off their playing fields.”
She also said the new healthy schools ratings must not be used as “yet another inspection criteria with which to beat schools”.
Leaving this challenge to schools seems to be a major shortcoming
These ratings will form part of Ofsted inspections and will be introduced from September next year. The rating criteria will be decided after consultation with schools and experts.
The government strategy also states Ofsted will assess how effectively school leaders are using their extra cash and measure the impact for outcomes of pupils.
It states schools will continue to have freedom to spend the primary PE cash on specific interventions, but will be helped to understand what works – including with a Public Health England advice pack for the 2017/18 year.
The guidance will outline how schools can work with school nurses, health centres and local authority healthy weight teams.
Russell Hobby (pictured right), general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said most schools will already be providing 30 minutes of physical activity a day.
But he added: “More funding for schools to set up new schemes for active break times or additional clubs is needed to ensure all primary age children are learning the physical skills and habits required for healthy lifestyles.”
The strategy acknowledges many schools already offer an average of two hours of PE per week, but adds: “We need to do more to encourage children to be active every day.”
It states every primary school child should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity; 30 minutes at school and 30 minutes at home.
But Paul Gately, professor of exercise and obesity at Leeds Beckett University, said leaving this challenge to schools seems to be a “major shortcoming”.
“With no obvious mechanisms for influencing parental physical activity opportunities, it is hard to see how attempts to cram more into the already overburdened school day will meet with much success.”
The government strategy read: “With nearly a third of children aged 2-15 overweight or obese, tackling childhood obesity requires us all to take action.
“Government, industry, schools and the public sector all have a part to play in making food and drink healthier and supporting healthier choices for children. The benefits for reducing obesity are clear – it will save lives and reduce inequalities.”