Education Quandary: I'm the head of a primary school where pupils are getting fatter. What can I do? We already teach about diet and exercise

Hilary's advice

I'm afraid you will have to turn yourself into a dictator. Tell staff and parents you are going to get serious about health and fitness. Explain why. Allow them to contribute ideas but let nothing deflect you from your basic aim of making – yes, making – your children eat healthily and move around more.

Forget government guidelines. Two hours of PE a week will never do it. Sedentary children have to be forced to acquire the habit of daily fitness. Encourage walking to school, and start the school day with daily exercises for everyone, Chinese style, in the playground. Begin with five minutes and make it more. Tell your teachers to give their classes regular "brain breaks" where children jump up and move around, and train lunchtime supervisors to lead regular fitness sessions. Then bring in a range of after-school dancing and sports clubs, plus yoga or aerobics for staff.

Ban junk food, set guidelines for packed lunches, and do whatever you can to make your school meals healthier than the basic regulations. Children who are used to the taste of fat, sugar and salt don't willingly embrace fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

Many people will hate you for this, and there will be all sorts of protests. Grit your teeth and remind everyone why you are doing it. Celebrate good progress at every turn and carry on teaching about health and fitness. It will take blood, sweat, tears and unpopularity, but you will see results.

Reader's advice

Children spend only a fraction of their week in school. Anything you do at school will be wiped out if everything at home goes against it. I believe you have to start with parents. Do you do anything to educate them about health and fitness? Our school recommends Ian Wright's Fitter Families to parents and we have found it very helpful.

Anne Ballentyne, Buckinghamshire

You should bring in things that children like to do, like skateboarding and dancing. At our school, the boys always play football at lunchtime but girls like to dance and make up dance routines so we have asked our school council if we can have music and a place to do this. Schools make PE boring. No one in my school likes netball.

Lindsay Peters (10), Bristol

Your biggest problem, without doubt, will be what your children are eating at home. Most parents these days don't know how to cook healthy meals, or else they are too busy, or they can't be bothered. When my children go to friends' houses they are always given fish fingers or pizzas or burgers, usually with no vegetables except sometimes frozen peas or sweetcorn. When children come to my house, they are horrified by things such as broccoli and courgettes and won't even try them. Now my children are embarrassed by my meals and want me to make pizza and burgers for their friends.

Lee Macmillan, Essex

Next Week's Quandary

How do you find motivation if you haven't got it? I have just done my AS levels and am supposed to be doing my A2 levels next year and going to university, but I can't get up any interest in what I'm doing. I just don't care, and I know I will screw up if I carry on like this.

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet. com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are online at where they can be searched by topic.

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