Report: State schools need wellbeing officers to beat Britain's health crisis

Only 21 per cent of boys and 15 per cent of girls attain the minimum target of 60 minutes of physical activity a day

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The Independent Online

Every state secondary school should appoint a head of wellbeing to counter a health and fitness crisis amongst today’s schoolchildren, says a report published today.

“The pressures facing secondary school pupils today are possibly at their greatest ever,” says a joint report from 2020 Health and Nuffield Health.

“Surrounded by consumerism, bombarded by social media, distracted by screen-time, destabilised by family breakdown, stressed by academic targets, deceived by digitally altered celebrity images and exposed to damaging messages of online pornography, it is no wonder that many children find making the most of their education a tall order,” it says.

The new appointee could also help tackle the plight of the estimated 75 per cent of young people living with mental illness who go undiagnosed, it adds.

Evidence supporting the need for such a post includes high rates of sexually transmitted infections amongst today’s young people, as well as weight problems, poor diet and low engagement in physical activity.

The head of wellbeing, it also argues, could include looking after the welfare of teaching staff amongst their remit.

“Teachers report some of the highest levels of stress of any profession and support structures in schools often appear inadequate to meet their needs,” it adds.

“The problem is perhaps most acute for newly qualified teachers but exacerbated for all staff by a pervasive stigma attached to mental health support and counselling.

“No staff member wants to appear ‘weak’, especially if they seek career progression, so suffering happens in silence until the strain is simply too great to conceal.”

Statistics cited in the report show that only 21 per cent of boys and 15 per cent of girls attain the minimum target of 60 minutes of physical activity a day. However, incidents of alcohol consumption, smoke and pregnancy amongst teenagers are on the wane. The latter could because of better access to the morning after pill by teenagers.

Trends in STIs, though, indicate many teenagers “have not heeded advice about safe sex”. Cases of gonorrhoea amongst 15 to 19-year-olds shot up by 21 per cent between 2010 and 2012.

The head of wellbeing could engage with hard-to-reach parents, ensure suitable support for newly arrived immigrant families with little understanding of English culture.  It was suggested during consultation that the appointment of a non-teacher to the post could make communications with parents easier.

Dr Andrew Jones, managing director of wellbeing at Nuffield Health, said in a foreword to the report: “This role should co-ordinate support for staff, the school sports curriculum, healthy eating, personal and social education and on-site health.

“It would also help schools and parents tackle the issue of bullying more effectively through awareness and help to prepare our children as they become young adults.