Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400-419)
18 SEPTEMBER 2003
Q400 Chairman: Can we explore why
that is. What is the reason? A school I was in last Friday, the
assembly display on healthy schools was on what you can do at
play time. I find this quite interesting, that they were demonstrating
how to skipso a girl demonstrated skippingand it
struck me that that was common when I was at school: the girls
would be skipping and the boys would be playing football or whatever.
What are the reasons why we have moved from that environment to,
as you have said, people sitting down in their lunch break?
Mr Almond: Going back to the first
question you asked me, the other major reduction is play at homewhich
makes it even worse. We have the situation where there are less
siblings who are going to pass on play to their own children.
As a consequence, play is going out of children's lives. It is
simply being completely eroded (1) through lack of opportunities
to play and (2) through the fact that there is no repertoire of
games or activities that children can play. You used skipping
as an example. The British Heart Foundation promotes skipping
as a fund-raising activity and we have staff who go round to teach
teachers how to teach skipping in schools because many of them
cannot do an activity like skipping. It is this known notion that
children are playing less. They have no repertoire of games or
activities to play because they have lost it all, it has been
lost over a number of years, and as a consequence boredom"I'm
bored"is very often a thing that young people complain
to their parents at school holidays and weekends. In fact, it
is a very interesting observation that at weekends children do
far less activity than Monday to Friday.
Q401 Chairman: Do you feel that the
school regime has had a role in this process? Last week, when
we were in Leeds, we were talking to the parents of one girl who
was quite obese. This girl was nine, and she would have passed
easily for 14 or 15. She was particularly academically bright
and the mother described her being taken out of PE to do more
English, presumably because the school knew she could achieve
high levels in SATs, etcetera, which would be helpful to the school
in terms of league tables. Do you see that that emphasis on the
academic achievements of schools has had a bearing on the kind
of situation you are describing?
Mr Almond: Absolutely. There has
been a major reduction in the total amount of physical education
time that is allocated in primary schools. I would not like to
say it is because of the literacy and numeracy hours, I think
that is an excuse that some schools use. I do not think that is
the main reason. I just think physical activity has very low priority
among head teachers and senior staff; many of the people teaching
in primary schools do not have a very strong interest in physical
activity; and both those factors combine together to say that
even though there may be two hours physical education allocated
in a week, the reality is that over the year they probably get
less than 50% of that; in other words, the allocated time is nothing
like real time , the actual experience in time. So children are
doing less play, less activity in school, less activity when they
go home, and less activity at weekends.
Mr Lincoln: We have the lowest
levels of structured PE in our schools throughout Europe. There
has been that decline over the last decade or so. The statutory
requirementwell, if you can call that a statutory requirementthe
standard, is that there is a minimum of two hours a week, and
that is it really within the curriculum time. Otherwise it is
seen as an added extra. But there are lots of initiatives going
on to bring physical activities and opportunities over and around
the requirements of the core curriculum, and I think resurrecting
play is a very good means of doing that. There is some very interesting
work by the QCA at the moment on this very thing.
Mr Almond: In Canada they are
now thinking of introducing legislation in certain of the States,
certainly Alberta, to have one hour of physical education every
single day on the grounds that it increases attainment of people
in the school. They have not mentioned fitness but the attainment
of children in the schools. That is one hour a day, where we are
talking about two hours a week in schools.
Mr Lincoln: That is the health
recommendation, that children are active for a minimum of one
hour a day in terms of conferring health benefits and improving
their health prospects later on in adulthood.
Q402 Chairman: Mr Osborne, you wanted
to come in.
Mr Osborne: Yes, I just wanted
to draw on the impact that the school journey has on this. My
son is attending an inner city Victorian-built school. They obviously
designed-in space for children to play. Half the play space there
is now taken up with teachers' car parking. There is a great irony
there, I think, in terms of what the school was built for and
what its aims are. There is an impact there, in the way staff
are travelling to school, on children's activity levels, I am
sure. The other one is the actual access that children have to
play space when they are at home. It is all very well having a
very nice play area across the street, but if the kids cannot
get there because there is no safe place to cross to walk to it,
they have to be driven, and there is not a car around to drive
them there, they cannot have the opportunity to get to these places.
I think transport impacts on this in a whole different set of
Q403 Chairman: On the two hours a
week issue, I have certainly talked to head teachers in my own
area who have explained to me why, because of academic demands
and pressure on them, they have had to eat into that two hours
a week. You are probably awareand I hesitate to mention
Brent in view of today's circumstancesthat we had planned
to have Barry Gardiner, the MP for Brent North. For reasons you
will understand, we have decided to defer him to another day.
Barry has kept me in touch with an initiative with which he has
been involved in his area, where he has several secondary schools,
I think with effect from this term, doing a very different school
day which includes two hours physical activity per day. I know
he has had some difficulties in relation to achieving this. Are
any of you aware of this initiative and, if so, what are your
views on the kind of steps that are being taken by these schools
Mr Almond: We certainly are, in
terms of the British Heart Foundation, aware of that. I recommend
any initiative that is going to increase participation levels.
As far as I am concerned, the most important thing here is to
have structuresand we have got organisations in placeto
be able to deliver all the things we require in terms of increasing
participation rates and reducing obesity levels. The difficultyand
this is where this project may have an influenceis we have
to influence the decision makers to be able to say, "Look,
participation rates are important." Over the last 10 years
schools have not raised participation levels. We need to give
them a performance review; in other words, they will say, "If
I can increase participation levels by two per cent, I am meeting
Q404 Chairman: So the Ofsted role
comes in here, as it does with the food issue.
Mr Almond: I was going to make
exactly the same point. Any initiatives like the one you are speaking
about, which would promote ideas for schools to generate and take
on board, would be very welcome.
Mr Lincoln: We very much support
that initiative as well, and others. For example, the QCA have,
I think, 15/13 schools where they are encouraging play in the
school day which is structured. They are evaluating that. The
early indications are very, very encouraging and we would like
to see that mainstreamed a lot more. There are multiple benefits
for the school. The head teachers, I gather, were bowled over
by the results, because not only did it make the children more
active and engage many children who had not been before in these
supervised times with equipmentwhich does not cost a lotinstead
of just wandering aimlessly around the playground to try to fill
time, it helped in reducing absenteeism levels, it helped with
behaviour issues and all sorts of things. So this was an added
bonus to the head teachers. Also, the point about the Brent experiment
is that it is a whole community engagement. We would like to see
that there is a requirement on schools for there to be a proper
policy for physical activity and healthy eating, and that there
are standardssuch as, for example, an extension of the
national Healthy School standardand that there is a dialogue
and a contract with the community and with parents in terms of
these things. Every school will have their solutions because of
their situationwhether it is the environment they have
if they are in the inner cities, and whatever their access is
to facilities, etcetera, and the particular modes of transport
to schoolbut we would like to see that as a requirement,
encouraging the dialogue with young people themselveswho
usually have the solutions to these issuesand of course
parentswho obviously only want the well-being of their
child: that is what they put first and foremost.
Q405 Chairman: I get the impression,
Mr Almond, from what you said a few moments ago, that you were
of the view that the current decline in terms of physical activity
within the school environment is not just as a consequence of
the academic pressures and league tables and measurements on school
performance but that the teaching staff were not motivated and
perhaps trained to address this area of youngsters' development.
Is that a factor from your point of view? How would you feel that
might be addressed in relation to our recommendations? Are you
talking about teacher training?
Mr Almond: No. You have asked
me exactly the one question I would like to answer. At the present
moment, we have a School Sport Coordinator Programme. That is
£440 million investment by the Government. That School Sport
Coordinator Programme will be dispersed round the whole country
within the next five years. That has a partnership development
manager, whose role is to coordinate work between the schools
and also the community to expand the partnerships that will work
together, and their main focus is to increase participation levels.
That is the first time we have ever had such an opportunity developed.
Q406 Chairman: These are the LEA-based
people, are they?
Mr Almond: Yes, they are LEA.
In other words the School Sport Coordinator Programme provides
the infrastructure from which we can actually do things. We will
not need any more money for that, what we need is the leadership
and a focus. We have to provide them with very clear practice,
not good practice but effective practice, of how they can increase
participation levels. If we can get that engendered within that
programmebecause the money is thereI think schools
will deliver. It will put physical activity much higher on their
agenda in terms of raising participation levels, not just increasing
more sport for those who already enjoy sport. For example, in
terms of disability, almost one-third of children who are disabled
just do activities; in other words, two-thirds are not doing any
activity at all. There is a magnificent opportunity there because
the disabled population is extremely keen to be active. We can
raise participation levels there, but if we also looked at the
obesity problem I think schools would take it on board, as long
as we give them illustrations of effective practice. They have
the means to be able to do it, let us put it on to their agenda
and make sure it is a higher agenda. At the moment, it is far
Q407 Chairman: Do any of you have
any thoughts on the way currently schools consult youngsters about
physical activity within a school environment? I am very conscious
of the way in which some children who spoke to us last week felt
alienated as a consequence of being overweight and obese, and
yet certainly we have seen examples where those youngsters can
be engaged in activities that will genuinely help them and help
their perception of themselves. Do you have any thoughts on that
area, of how we might improve things?
Mr Almond: I actually am Chair
of the governing body and one of the factors I have been trying
to do over the past three years is to encourage the school to
take on board the notion that young people in their school should
have a voice: they should feel that that voice enables them to
feel a partner in this school process. But schools are reluctant
to do it because it is almost saying, "I am giving away my
authority." Once again, we have to provide people with the
opportunity of listening to young people but actually responding
to what they are saying. I think young people will then take us
seriously. They will not take us seriously if we do not listen.
I think schools have to listen and put into place opportunities
to put that listening into action steps. I think once schools
start doing that, you will get more work done for obese children
Q408 Chairman: Do you think the schools
make sufficient use of the resources available to them in their
local communities of sports schools? We saw a good example at
Bradford Bulls Rugby League Club of the way a local sports club
with a high profile can be used in respect of health. Looking
at it probably more at an amateur level locally, do you think
there are sufficient connections to be made? One of the things
I understood about the Brent initiative was that, rather than
placing additional stress on teaching staff, they are drawing
in coaching expertise and clubs from the outside local community.
Is that something that you feel could be done more? Do you feel
that the new sports coordinator role may improve those links and
make use of those links in a way that we are not doing at the
Mr Almond: The School Sport Coordinator
Programme will do just that, because it has to involve the community.
There is a slight problem, I think, with sport, and that is that
sporting clubs are at the point where an increase of maybe 0.05
will just overrun them because they do not have the volunteers
or the help to provide for any more children. I think we have
to say that we cannot give them more children to cope with on
the existing money they have got. We have to make either new money
available or new resources. I would say that the whole notion
of participation in sport and activities has to be a joint responsibility
between the clubs and the people who provide leisure services
and the schools, so we are working togetheras in Brent.
We cannot simply say that it is the clubs' job to do it: they
are part of the parcel but we cannot overload them. There is a
grave danger we will overload clubs and they will not survive.
There is a programme we have with ladies called Rusty Ladies.
They do not want to join clubs, they do not want to be part of
a sporting competition, but they want to playwe call it
sporting playand they will do lots and lots of activities.
I think the way the "club" is set up at the moment will
not attract those sorts of childrenit certainly will not
attract the obese child. We need to rethink ways of attracting
young people into activities, but see that as a community programme
and not just as a club or a school or individual group.
Q409 Chairman: If I may come on to
you, Ms Longfield. The more perceptive of the witnesses will have
noticed that our Committee is currently all male. I was going
to throw in a question particularly about the issue of girls and
women in sport and how we need to address the fact that a lot
of the activities on offer in schools are very off-putting to
girls and we do not relate to their interests. Do any of you have
any thoughts on that particular issue?
Ms Longfield: I was just going
to say that I was slightly worried about the emphasis on sport
because I am sure I am not the only person in the room for whom
games lessons were a form of aversion therapy. I have never picked
up a ball in anger since! Physical activity obviously is a much
broader concept and I am sure the people involved in physical
activity would agree. I mean, dancing is my thing, but there are
all kinds of physical activities in which people and children
in particular can be encouraged to get involved if sport is not
their thingand I think we have to acknowledge that it is
not for some people and it is never going to be.
Mr Almond: Jeanette makes a very
fair point. I accept exactly what she is saying. The question
you ask is about girls. If you look at participation levels from
the age of nine to 55, they are very, very similar all the way
through. There has been no change. In other words, once a woman
or a child is into physical activity, they stay. They do not drop
out, they actually stay. We have to go back to the very roots.
How can we attract women/young girls into activity and make available
a much bigger menu? Jeanette says dance. Absolutely right. Why
can we not promote more dance activities? In other words, that
it is not confined, if you like, to male sports but that we have
a much broader agenda that is accessible to more children. Where
I would come back and agree with Jeanette is that we have just
done a survey of girls: Why are you not taking part in sport?
"Because when we go and play against a school team, we are
told to trash them, we are told to thrash them, we are told to
see them as enemies, and when we go to training sessions all that
is done is we are berated and shouted at." I would not take
part in an activity where I am berated and told to trash people.
I want to enjoy my sport. I think that is another problem that
sport has. I suspect that Jeanette's lack of interest in sport
is not because of the sporting activity but the way it has been
presented and developed with her.
Q410 Chairman: One of the issues
that was picked up in the school in Leeds, Boston Spa near Wetherby,
last week, was concern over having to get changed for PE and games.
Particularly girls, and boys as well, were not happy during the
adolescent phase at having to get changed. In this particular
school, which had sports college status, they offered showers
that were divided up, so that there was privacy in terms of changing
and showering. Apparently that had had an impact on participation
of girls and boys.
Mr Almond: I think that is absolutely
rightand it goes for boys as well. I think there is a privacy
factor there that we have not addressed. Anything like that. It
is part of the Nike girls project in making effective practice
available to all schools, especially the sports colleges. Anything
like that would be an advantage.
Q411 Chairman: I want to bring Doug
in in a moment, but one question before I do that: what about
external factors like playing fields' sales or the cost of new
sports centres as a factor in the lack of physical activity? Do
you have any thoughts on this area?
Mr Almond: As far as I am concerned,
they are far too expensive and not inclusive.
Q412 Chairman: What should we do
Mr Almond: It is almost exactly
the same way as cardiac rehab: we have to make it a community-based
project; it has to be accessible to everybody; it has to be within
one and half miles maximum of where they live. Unless we provide
facilities in those areas, then we are going to make absolutely
no impression at all.
Q413 Dr Naysmith: Could I first of
all apologise for coming in late to this Committee. One of the
great joys of this place and its frustrations is that we often
have to be in three different places at once. I do apologise for
that. The Committee Chairman has let me ask a couple of questions
that particularly interest me, so if it is something that has
been covered already just say so, and do not bother answering
again because I will get it from the minutes. I particularly want
to ask about the psychological and social concerns of overweight
children in schools associated with physical activity and games.
I wondered to what extent the personneland I mean the teachers
and other people involved with thistake into account the
psychological and social concerns of overweight children can have.
I know we have just been talking about the idea of showers and
so on and making it easier for people, but do people really understand
Mr Almond: I think the psycho-social
issues are substantial and often underplayed. I think that schools
have not had sufficient trainingnot necessarily in the
teacher-trainingto be able to deal with obese young men
or women and neither have they had any training in asthma or diabetes.
Anything like that has not been made available. One of the most
effective things we can do is to get the schools to look carefully
at ways of integrating these young people into normal activities
but also individualising and personalising programmes so they
can do things. There may be some things they cannot do, okay,
but there are lots of activities: sport and dance and adventure
activities and fitness activities. There is a massive range, there
is a great deal of potential.. The important thing which I think
we have to get over, certainly with obese young men and young
women, is that they need to be doing a lot of activity. School
activity will make an insignificant contribution to the total
requirement. These young people should be doing well over 60 minutes
of activity a day, therefore the school contribution will be very
small. But if teachers in schools could be sensitiveand
I think a lot areto the needs of these young people, it
may very well switch them on to being more active outside of school.
That is what they want.
Q414 Dr Naysmith: How about dealing
with bullying and name calling and the lack of confidence that
some of these people have? Are teachers aware enough of that aspect
Mr Almond: Unless you have actually
been a recipient of serious bullying and unless you understand
the concepts of where we are coming from, I think it is very difficult
to be very, very sensitive to that person, because you just think,
"Oh, they're making it up." Because you have lots and
lots of things to do in a day, you cannot devote most of your
time to an obese child and therefore there could be a tendency,
not to dismiss itthat would be the wrong wordbut
to put it on one side and say, "We'll do it later" or
"We'll try to find something for you." The one thing
I get constantly from obese young men and women is the statement,
"They say they'll do things but it never happens. They are
going to put programmes on but they never happen." As far
as I am concerned, the most effective programmes have been the
schools working with primary care. They have a family-oriented
programme which is on two or three times a week, and usually a
weekend session as well, but it is done in conjunction with the
primary care teams. That is a much better way.
Q415 Mr Burstow: First, may I preface
my remarks as well with apologies for not being here for the beginning
of the presentation. Like other members, we have to be in many
places at once. Just picking up on this question of the role of
schools and so onand it is from personal experience as
much as anything. My son is in primary school, he is in year one.
His teachers this week have said to all parents of children in
year one that they should cut back on out of school activities
because the children are tired in school and are therefore not
able to concentrate on their work and so on. There is an imperative
around the curriculum, and requirements there on the school to
deliver. How much does that get in the way of delivering the sort
of things you are talking about, which are the very activities
that will deal with and forestall the rise of obesity?
Mr Almond: The main problem is
that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) have explicitly
said that if you are doing ten minutes of moderate activity it
improves the blood flow to the brain, you improve your ability
to learn and you improve your concentration. Therefore schools
are doing the wrong thing by reducing activity, they are going
to decrease academic attainment and they need to be aware of that.
Q416 Mr Burstow: It is not so much
about reducing the activity content within the school day, the
message that seems to be being communicated is reduce the activity
content post the school day. Therefore the question is whether
the school day is already too long or is there already too much
packed into a school day, and does it make much sense to try and
extend the school day any further if that is the sort of advice
and pressure that is on parents and on the schools?
Mr Almond: If there is any recommendation
that children cut down their activity then it will be for the
Paula Radcliffes of this world who are doing about four hours
of activity a day. That is the only time I would ever say to somebody
to reduce their activity. I think young people can do lots of
activity and spend a lot of time doing it and they will not tire
because they become conditioned and better used to it, but I think
it would be very sad if they are told to reduce their activity.
Mr Osborne: I think it is very
new evidence that has come through from the University of Exeter
and from the California Education Department which says that they
have firmly linked increased physical activity with improved educational
attainment. That school is obviously not aware of this research.
I think the education department here are only just acknowledging
Ms Longfield: I am not sure it
is that new as a concept. I guess quite a few people in the room
have seen that brilliant series on television about the children
who went back to a 1950s school and they had to wear the uniform,
they had to eat the food and they had to do the physical activities
and everything, it was great television. In those days it was
absolutely axiomatic that you had to be physically active because
it was thought to be good for your overall well-being. One of
the amazing things about that that the Food Commission found out
from one of their researchers associated with that committee is
that the children involved in that project lost weight.
Mr Almond: It was 15 stone in
Ms Longfield: Which is absolutely
Q417 Dr Taylor: I think I am one
of the few people here who was at a boarding school in the 1950s.
The extra factor then, which I am sure these kids did not have,
was the lumpy porridge and the lumpy custard and food rationing
was still in so you could not eat well. I was going to ask if
we should be going back to that because it was healthy and there
was regular exercise. It was not a prohibition of snacks because
the same snacks were not available. I do not know when Smiths
crisps came in
Mr Almond: Not in the 1950s.
Jim Dowd: You can probably remember the
little bags of salt.
Chairman: Were you asking a question,
Richard, or was that just a reminiscence?
Q418 Dr Taylor: Would it be feasible
to be aiming towards going back to that style of life at school?
Mr Almond: No.
Ms Dalmeny: Maybe without the
Mr Almond: I would say let us
get back to the notion that young people should be far more active
than they are and let us get schools recognising that eating well
is important for their health. We have lost both of those things.
Mr Lincoln: This has been shown
in the Ofsted reports and through the National Healthy Schools
Standard where they have looked at health and whether that improves
what might be seen as the bottom line in some schools, educational
outcomes and there is a clear link. So the more activity the more
benefits plus the fact, as I know from my own children, they sleep
better every night as well.
Mr Osborne: Could I come back
to your point about this not being new. I agree that there has
been a lot of common sense logic that the more active you are
the more you attain. The difference is everyone is becoming increasingly
evidence based. It is only now that this research is showing that
more physical activity means better standards in schools and that
is what is new and I think that is why this research is so important.
Q419 Mr Burstow: All of that has
been very helpful but I do not think it quite answered my question
which was about out of school activity. A school may well have
a very good mix of activity during the school day and thus meet
your points and address the research findings that you have just
told us about but be concerned that children also then have a
large number of out of school activities on top of that. I know
from my own experience that my son and many others who come from
this particular school are quite tired by the end of the day and
it is not just because they have had lots of cramming of academic
stuff but they have also had good exercise during the day. Are
you concerned about the issues which would suggest that we should
extend the school day so as to facilitate the extra activity to
meet the concerns that this Committee is currently investigating
or should we really be saying that within the confines of the
existing school day we should be trying to do more activity?
Mr Osborne: I have just spoken
on the theme of the journey to school and obviously there is a
tremendous opportunity there to build in physical activity outside
the school day.