How a positive attitude to physical education can improve health and wellbeing
Sara Guy, director of sport at Leweston School, describes how her pupils benefit from an inclusive programme of sport and exercise.
One of Leweston School’s stated aims is:
To provide a programme of sport and outdoor learning accessible to all which supports and enhances pupils’ personal development and academic achievements.
In an age of growing concern about the mental wellbeing of children, and with cases of teenage depression, anxiety and stress on the rise, sport and exercise can provide an effective drug-free treatment. Whilst some children thrive on competition and find this a release in itself, others benefit from non-competitive recreational activities. At Leweston we provide and oversee a wide range of options to ensure that everyone can access a physical activity they enjoy and respond to.
The school fields teams in the traditional sports of hockey, netball, football, rugby and cricket, but also supports those who prefer more solitary competition by offering athletics, cross-country, modern pentathlon, tennis and swimming. We also provide health and wellbeing elements in our lunchtime and after-school activities programme. This year pupils have been able to access spin class, fencing, shooting, cycling, yoga and kunda dance and sailing, but the list changes regularly. Every lunchtime and one early morning per week there is an open swim. All of these activities are totally inclusive and accessible to all.
In addition to the unofficial support and encouragement of the staff, the school’s PSHRE programme highlights the value of physical activity to pupils - particularly leading up to exam time. Students are encouraged to find a healthy balance between academic study and physical recreational activity.
With 46 acres of grounds pupils of all ages are encouraged to get outside, and as many activities as possible are offered outdoors. Walking is encouraged and the numerous dogs on site are available for pupils to exercise, bringing their own proven stress busting benefits.
Leweston has a long history of excellence in running which is recognised as having a particularly strong impact on mental health. This, combined with the sight of trees and nature, can have a restorative effect on those that participate. The success of the national Parkrun initiative reflects this. Cross-country runs are available most lunchtimes with individual staff members willing to take out small groups on request. The Friday run typically has up to 45 staff and pupils taking part, which is almost a quarter of the senior school’s population. Older pupils are encouraged to run in study periods and after school and are regularly seen through the grounds and surrounding footpaths. The School recently staged a ‘take-over’ of a local Parkrun, providing runners, marshals and timekeepers from both the student and parent bodies.
All of this means that sport is seen as a positive activity at Leweston, something we are rightly proud of, given that Public Health England has found that by the final year of primary school just 17% of children are doing the recommended amount of daily exercise. As a result of this encouragement a significant number of pupils choose to participate in sport who would not normally be willing or able to. Many go on to find themselves in teams that they would never have expected to join, increasing their sense of confidence and self-worth.