Schools working with the National Healthy Schools Programme are embracing a range of non-traditional ‘street sports’, such as rollerblading or iceskating, in order to develop healthier lifestyles in young people

Encouraging our children and young people to undertake more physical activity is becoming an increasingly important priority for schools. In summer 2007, prime minister Gordon Brown said: “We need to put school sport back where it belongs, playing a central role in the school day. Whatever their natural ability and whatever their age, sports and activity can make our children healthier and raise their self-confidence and self-esteem.”

The National Healthy Schools Programme is an initiative which aims to do just this by providing schools with a framework to help children and young people develop healthy lifestyles and make improved life choices. Improving physical activity and encouraging participation in sports is a major part of the programme.

Working with a comprehensive network of local and national partners, schools working with the National Healthy Schools Programme are embracing a whole range of new physical activities including popular ‘street sports’ to help make PE lessons more accessible and appealing to young people.

Children and young people at Phoenix School in Tower Hamlets in London, for example, have been enjoying inline skating as part of their PE lessons. This popular sport has proven a massive hit at the school, which caters for children with a variety of special needs including autism and language and communication difficulties. The school achieved National Healthy School Status in July 2007 and has been working with the programme since it began.

Troy Gering, PE coordinator for the school, says: “Incorporating inline skating into a physical education programme allows for a greater range of students to achieve sporting proficiency. Inline skating can be enjoyed by children who may not think of themselves as ‘sporty’. It also builds self-esteem and cardiovascular fitness.”

“Children love to skate. It doesn’t matter whether they are strapping wheels to their shoes or using the latest recreational inline skates, kids simply love rolling,”says Asha Kirkby, manager of Skatefresh Inline Skateschool.

As one of the highest level of certified skate schools in the world, based in both London and Brighton, Skatefresh’s mission is to enrich the physical education curriculum by bringing the fun and excitement of inline skating into PE classes and after-school clubs.

Gering explains: “We contacted Skatefresh after realising we had a lot of interest from students and teachers in starting a PE skating lesson and an after-school ‘skate club’. We’ve now been running skating sessions as part of our curriculum since 2005.

“We have found it a great means for encouraging participation in sports and physical activity. Our students who have taken part in skating sessions have really enjoyed themselves and we have seen real developments in regards to their improved balance, fine and gross motor skills, coordination and cognitive skills.”

Inline skating in school can be successfully introduced in any school from the age of six and seven and can be easily accommodated in any school – either inside in a sports hall or outside on the playground and it can also be extended to before- and after-school clubs with opportunities to allow students to progress to other skating disciplines such as inline hockey, freestyle skating or slalom.

“Skating is also a great form of aerobic exercise because the children remain active for the whole lesson, as even standing still in skates takes balance, coordination and muscle effort. We notice the students who tend to give up in other sports often really enjoy and persevere with skating.”

Gering adds: “We’ve also seen that the benefits of skating lessons go beyond the obvious fitness benefits. For example, one autistic child who previously didn’t socialise or participate in any group situation in regular lessons, after just 12 skate classes spontaneously started to join in with the rest of the group and now she is participating in group activities in all regular lessons. Skating motivated her to overcome her fear of being with other people.”

In the north east, the Healthy Schools team was approached by the Mobilx Vipers Community Foundation, a charitable organisation which is part of the Mobilx Vipers professional ice hockey team, to offer their team players for school visits throughout the region.

Ann Johnson, regional coordinator for the National Healthy Schools Programme in the north east, explains: “The Vipers approached with the idea of partnering on a schools programme designed to encourage participation in sports, improve sports education and help tackle various health issues such as child obesity by introducing their ice hockey players as role models within school to deliver and endorse key health and lifestyle messages to local children.

“The foundation approached us because they knew that we had strong established links into every school in the region and that together we could effectively help schools encourage greater participation and more enthusiasm about sports in our schools.”

A two-year programme is already running in six-week cycles across many schools across the north east and includes interactive assembly sessions with demonstrations that are packed with positive lifestyle messages focused on nutrition, education and healthy life choices. It also includes after-school classes where children and young people actually get to learn the sport’s techniques through specially designed training drills and fun games focused on ball hockey and Unihoc. After this, they also have the opportunity to learn to ice skate with the Mobilx Vipers.

Ann Jonhson adds: “We find that schools in more deprived areas tend to have poorer physical activity levels among their children and we therefore decided to specifically target 44 schools which had 50 per cent free school meals or above as part of this initiative. We also had to carefully consider schools in our ‘hard to reach’ areas near the Scottish borders where access to ice rinks is difficult. We set aside a special budget to bus the children and young people from schools that fell into these categories and wanted to be able to acces their nearest ice rinks.

“Whilst it’s still relatively early days, one benefit that is immediately apparent is that introducing non-traditional sports and street sports into the PE curriculum is proving an effective way of re-engaging children and young people in health and fitness. Schools tell us that even children who don’t enjoy PE and sports are suddenly enthused about it. We are also finding that some children are inspired to continue developing their skills in the sport outside of school hours.”

  • Nine out of 10 schools in England are currently involved in the National Healthy Schools Programme, with over half at full National Healthy School Status.
  • This translates to about 3.7 million children and young people currently enjoying the benefits of a Healthy School.
  • The National Healthy Schools Programme is a joint Department of Health (DH) and Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) initiative, which supports the links between health, behaviour and achievement through a whole-child approach.
  • It is a successful non-statutory national programme with 95 per cent of schools already articipating (20,887 schools). The government has set a target for all schools to be participating by December 2009.
  • Fifty-six per cent of schools have already achieved National Healthy Schools Status (12,275 schools).

(Figures from December 2007)

Please note: The National Healthy Schools Programme does not endorse any programme, brand or company

More information about the National Healthy Schools Programme