Liz Robinson, Co-Head, Surrey Square Primary School
Feb 27, 2018
The Aylesbury Estate in South East London is the largest in the country and its high-rise blocks can be a foreboding sight. It’s currently undergoing a major regeneration programme, that aims to deliver 3,500 new homes, half of which will be affordable; community facilities and improved open spaces. The project, which began construction in 2016, is expected to finish in 2032.
Surrey Square is one of the nine schools that serve the Estate. It was rated outstanding by Ofsted in 2016. I work alongside Nicola Noble as co-head, to serve over 400 local children. They come from a wide and diverse range of backgrounds including West Africa, Bangladesh, Somali, Algeria, Peru, Columbia, Poland, Jamaica, Lithuania and Pakistan. Around 44% of our children are eligible for pupil premium – the additional government funding available to raise attainment of disadvantaged students. This is much higher than the national average of around 24%.
We’re a Flagship ‘Food for Life’ school and have worked hard to build a positive food culture. We know that diet is a big a problem, especially access to healthy food. Our work to develop a positive food culture has led to the flagship status, and we’re very proud of that.
Still, the results of our latest weights and measurements are not great, and this is disappointing and an issue for us. We often see a correlation between excess weight and emotional and psychological problems. All combine in a complex mix and can often have an impact on attainment and learning. So, we’re evaluating and looking at where else we may need to make changes.
"The job of influencing parents is ongoing. We got some push back at the beginning, as in ‘you can’t tell us what to feed our kids’ but this has slowly changed and most are on board."
Today, we provide healthy school meals and have a very high up-take. All meals are prepared by school and not an outside caterer and are to a high standard. All Southwark children are entitled to free school meals which helps. We also have a policy on packed lunches and monitor these as part of our culture now. No fizzy drinks, sweets or chocolate are allowed in packed lunches.
The job of influencing parents is ongoing. We got some push back at the beginning, as in ‘you can’t tell us what to feed our kids’ but this has slowly changed and most are on board. We also offer breakfast to all children and parents who want it through the Magic Breakfast. This comprises of high nutrient bagels, cereal and fruit juices. All Key stage 1 children are provided with fruit as a snack and we ensure that food in our after-school clubs is healthy. We’re seeing an increase in parents volunteering to get involved. We also encourage sharing food in the school to celebrate and introduce home cooking and foods from different cultures.
We also know that housing issues play a big part, with many families not having access to facilities such as kitchens and there is an overreliance on takeaway and convenience food.
A large number of our families live in flats with limited access to outside space. Yes, there are spaces such as Burgess Park in the vicinity, but during dark and cold winter months there is anxiety about community safety and parents are unwilling to let their children outside to play.
We have a high density of social housing which means children are walking very short distances to school, maybe just 300 metres. This is far less than children in less urban areas who often walk for longer to get to school and therefore get more exercise as part of their daily routine.
Like many places, there’s heavy use of technology in the home including phones, tablets, TV and computer games. We know that spending a lot of time on these devices has led to more sedentary lifestyle, but for our families it means children are occupied and not bouncing off the walls as much.
So, in terms of fitness and sport, all children have access to P.E. as part of the curriculum. Additionally, we have Sports Coaches during play time who encourage children to be active in the playground. We also have ‘Fit Fun’ leaders where some of our pupils are trained to instigate active games. They have special orange T-shirts and are clearly visible during play times.
Ongoing cuts to school budgets mean it is a continuous challenge to provide more than the basics. We try not to make any shortcuts. We subsidise school lunches to ensure we get good quality food such as meat but of course this is more expensive and we may have to compromise in future.
It’s also hard to give the time needed for physical activity. There is a focus on curriculum-based subjects such as English and Maths and so there’s a pressure there to compromise.
Inevitably, what Ofsted looks for is a big driver for schools and they tend to be a stick rather than a carrot! Currently, there is a push on core literacy and numeracy. When I started 12 years ago, Ofsted was more focused on Every Child Matters agenda which was broader and ‘being healthy’ had more focus. But now this has changed and they are more narrowly focused on attainment in core subjects. This means less accountability in other areas.
Whilst schools are a very significant tool in driving change, I am cautious here because schools can’t do everything and we certainly don’t need more pressure! There is too much pressure in the system to effect change in complex areas such as mental health, parenting etc, yet the resources are diminishing.
Investing in school healthiness has to be a combined effort. School business is education and this is partly health but we are not public health specialists. We need a clear combined strategy with key health and social partners to work with us on what healthiness means to us as schools. For example, making sure that specialist professionals carry out a number of visits to schools to support a percentage of the worst affected families, help share and develop best practice and how this can work well in schools. Most services are so stretched at the moment, but schools have critical access to families and can be key in helping solve some of these problems. We need a collective strategy but this combined conversation has not happened well.
Wellbeing – both emotional and mental – can be an area in schools that is less well resourced. Schools have to be a key part but we need specialists to work with us. The team around the child (TAC) is the right model but we need to ensure the structures actually exist and are well resourced to deliver. The universal offer in schools needs additional targeted support.
We see children with complex problems which require intricate and highly effective team work. Despite the mounting pressure, we want to play our role and are committed to continuing supporting our children in the best way we can.
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