Early Years Update looks at the National Healthy Schools Programme and the key issues it aims to address

The National Healthy Schools Programme (NHSP), a joint initiative between the Department of Health and the DCSF, aims to ‘support the development of healthy behaviours among children and young people, help raise their achievement and help promote health equality and social inclusion.’ By the end of 2009 all primary and secondary schools should have achieved, or be working towards, Healthy Schools status. The extension of this initiative to the early years sector will be of benefit to the health and wellbeing of children, parents and practitioners and fits well with the aims of objectives of the Early Years Foundation Stage. It will enable providers to demonstrate how they are helping to achieve two of the Every Child Matters outcomes, ‘Being healthy’ and ‘Staying safe’ and will contribute to meeting the objectives of the government’s Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives strategy (see page 3).

Links between the NHSP and the EYFS The NHSP as it applies to primary and secondary schools, is organised into four areas:

  • Personal, social and health education (including helping children to learn about relationships and sex as well as education about alcohol, tobacco and volatile substance abuse).
  • Healthy eating.
  • Physical activity.
  • Emotional health and wellbeing (including bullying).

In the EYFS, health-related issues can be found embedded within the four themes and their associated commitments.

A unique child:

1.4 Health and wellbeing

Positive relationships:

2.1 Respecting each other 2.2 Parents as partners 2.4 Key person

Enabling environments:

3.3 The learning environment 3.4 The wider context

Learning and development:

4.1 Play and exploration 4.2 Active learning 4.4 PSED and physical development Fulfilling these commitments will provide ample opportunity to address, in an age- and stage-appropriate way, the areas of the NHSP. For an example of how one early years setting achieved Healthy Schools status, see ‘Developing a drugs education curriculum for nursery age children’ in EYU 48.

Developing a healthy setting Young children learn by copying the role models which adults provide. In reviewing how to promote healthy living within their settings, managers will need to consider how best to help adults – staff and parents – understand health messages and then put them into practice effectively. Some of the key issues to be addressed will include:

Healthy eating

  • Ensuring staff know what healthy eating means in practice by including it the setting’s policies, in induction training and ongoing staff professional development.
  • Persuading staff to promote key aspects of healthy eating through their own healthy eating practices. This could include eating alongside the children at snack and meal times, making sure children have access to drinking water at all times and encouraging regular ‘drink breaks’ throughout the day.
  • Planning activities for children that encourage healthy food choices and the role food plays in growth and development.
  • Emphasising the need for hygiene when handling food.
  • Helping parents/carers to understand the importance of healthy eating through offering training, support and advice.


  • Drawing up a policy for the setting on exercise and physical activity.
  • Helping children to understand the importance of physical activity and the contribution it makes to keeping them healthy.
  • Offering training and information for staff and parents on the importance of physical activity and what constitutes health-related exercise.
  • Ensuring staff promote health-related exercise through the activities they plan for the children and through their active involvement in these activities.

Emotional wellbeing

  • Providing training to enable staff to feel confident in their understanding of what constitutes mental and emotional wellbeing.
  • Creating a supportive network within the setting which can respond sensitively to issues involving children, staff or parents.
  • Compiling policies to ensure staff understand how to manage children who may be experiencing loss and change, including changes in family circumstances, bereavement, or transition to a new setting.

Promoting staff health and wellbeing

  • Providing working and rest environments that are safe, welcoming and respectful. This might include providing appropriate seating for adults in a baby room, work space and ICT facilities for completing planning and assessment paperwork, comfortable staff rest areas and secure storage for personal possessions.
  • Giving careful consideration to work-life balance arrangements including shift patterns, breaks, non-contact time and help with childcare arrangements.
  • Developing well-structured policies for equal opportunities, staff discipline and grievance, performance management and professional development.