The BMJ Today: The schools of hard knocks?

TJackson_09Schools should teach students not only academic knowledge and cognitive skills, but also the knowledge and skills they will need to promote their own mental and physical health, and successfully navigate the world of work, argued an Editorial published on last week. It seems a no-brainer, and many schools may already be doing this, but there is a concern that in today’s target driven education system emotional and physical health risk being squeezed out of the curriculum. Certainly, some rapid responses to the Editorial give some indication of the difficulties health professionals face in their interactions with schools.

Luke N Allen, a foundation doctor from Cornwall, said—in a response posted yesterday—that in his experience of working on the National Child Measurement Programme it had not been easy to get support from teaching staff. “Our team received a letter from an angry head teacher decrying the continued annexation of staff time and resources to support yet another programme that would not deliver any tangible benefits to his pupils,” he writes. “The delayed time horizon of any public health intervention makes them intrinsically more difficult to sell. Furthermore teachers have traditionally viewed health as falling outside their primary remit.”

And Peter M English, a public health physician from Epsom, has described his concern over the potential health risks of types of school uniform. “Schools in my area require pupils to wear uniform which is dark and non-conspicuous, reducing their safety on their journeys between home and school. This was described to me as ‘camouflage’ by an official of the Local Authority Road Safety Officers Association. They also ban hats and gloves in cold weather. These measures all provide a disincentive to walking to school.”

Dr English had raised this with his children’s schools, but said the boards of governors had refused him permission to address them about this.

However, Sarah Temple, a general practitioner from Dorset, paints a different picture. Promoting the concept of emotion coaching in UK schools, she describes a pilot project in Wiltshire that aims to build resilience and community wellbeing by integrating emotion coaching into everyday practice in work with children and young people.

Trevor Jackson is a deputy editor, The BMJ.