School-based interventions to increase health and wellbeing
The health and wellbeing of school children is a pressing concern in England, with a growing prevalence of obesity and diabetes in childhood. It is also widely recognised that a child’s emotional health and wellbeing influences their cognitive development and learning, as well as their physical and social health and mental wellbeing in adulthood.
These increased concerns, aligned with a better recognition of the emotional and mental health needs of children, led the Greater London Authority (GLA) to develop and co-ordinate a school based health programme to improve health and wellbeing for all pupils in London.
The result was the development of the GLA’s Healthy Schools London programme (HSL) launched in April 2013 and co-ordinated by the Greater London Authority (GLA). The programme encourages schools to adopt a whole school approach to combat the specific health and wellbeing needs of their pupils by developing their policies and procedures. HSL recognises and rewards the schools’ endeavours through a system of awards: Bronze, Silver, and Gold.
A CLAHRC North Thames project recently completed a two-year evaluation of the programme. The aim of the evaluation was to assess the contribution of the programme to improving educational attainment, and health and well-being, among schoolchildren in London. It was funded jointly by the GLA and the CLAHRC, and was conducted between 2014 and 2016 by Dr Harry Rutter and Dr Andrew Barnfield from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
We conducted literature reviews, focus groups in 20 schools, interviews with 6 directors of public health and directors of children’s services, focus groups with borough leads, interviews with the GLA core team and borough leads, and two assessment visits to special schools. We also conducted an online survey across all participating schools, with a total of over 450 responses.
Was HSL effective in its aims?
- Assessed the potential for the HSL programme to influence educational achievement, promote healthy lifestyle behaviours, and reduce health inequalities in London
- Investigated the extent to which becoming a Healthy School is associated with changes in school-level policies, and activities.
- Assessed the nature and level of engagement with the HSL programme by schools, including any differential uptake by socio-economic factors, and to understand the drivers and barriers to becoming a Healthy School
- Provided recommendations to inform the ongoing development of the HSL programme
The evaluation concluded that HSL provides a valuable mechanism to encourage change at school level. Among a suite of recommendations, the evaluation suggested that:
- HSL would be strengthened by encouraging schools to work more closely together.
- A mentoring programme could help to spread best practice between schools,
- There is scope for stronger links between school sand local communities.
- The implementation of a programme to enhance health and wellbeing provision in early year’s settings could provide an additional mechanism for health improvement, and promote school preparedness among the capital’s children.