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Improving physical and emotional wellbeing

by Chris Ellis, Development Manager, Youth Sport Trust

Improving physical and emotional wellbeingMental health in young people is a pressing issue nationwide and can significantly impact on an individual’s quality of life.

In September 2015 the Youth Sport Trust, in partnership with Northamptonshire County Council and Northants Sport, embarked on PE2020: Active Healthy Minds – a programme that aims to improve the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of secondary aged students in the county. As part of the project, we undertook a student well-being survey with over 3,000 students in Northamptonshire aged 11-18. Combined with national data, the survey revealed a number of pressing issues.

National data tells us that 92% of young people suffer from exam stress and 33% of girls have poor body confidence and locally in the county we found that only 11% of students were achieving the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines for physical activity, which is at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, ranging from moderate to vigorous in its intensity. Even more startling, 25% of the young people who responded said they feel they don’t have a purpose in life.

The Youth Sport Trust created a national trailblazer project with a pioneering vision to improve the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of young people using physical activity. Since September 2015, we have engaged 38 Northamptonshire secondary and special schools.

Making a difference to all young people

All schools received a core intervention, with over 175 school teachers receiving ‘My Personal Best’ training (a programme the YST runs nationally), which has equipped them to take an overt approach to developing students’ life skills and wellbeing through curriculum PE. Schools on the programme are reporting that their pupils are showing an increased understanding of character development through PE, and displaying improved engagement and motivation across school.

Targeted work with designated groups

Part of the programme allowed schools to select appropriate interventions for their own contexts. Here we look at how a number of these interventions are making a difference;

  • Get to the Start Line: 24 schools in the region have worked with Youth Sport Trust Athlete Mentors to support students in building strategies to alleviate the overwhelming stress they face in preparing for exams. As a result of the pilot ‘in a majority of cases there were reduced referrals to school based well-being services and a majority of pupils improved on their predicted GCSE grades.’
  • Girls Active: the premise is about girls being empowered to support their peers and working with teachers to develop a framework for sport and PE within their schools. Nationally, the programme has worked with 100 schools this year and picked up a #GameChanger award for its innovative approach. Girls from nine schools in the region received training to help them plan and implement a mental health based initiative that encourages their peers to be more active and to understand how physical activity can help their mental wellbeing.
  • Raising Aspirations and Increasing Resilience (RAIR); 20 schools in the region received training from our dedicated athlete mentors to create a group of RAIR Champions within their schools. These students then play a role in developing a culture of aspiration and resilience in their peers. Headteachers have been positive about the impact;

The PE2020 program has undoubtedly influenced students’ resilience and determination in challenging situations...In particular, those students involved in individual projects, such as RAIR...have a wider understanding of what it means to be resilient.

Headteacher, Moulton School & Science College

Integrated approach to working

Finally, we have found that schools and partners working together on both physical and emotional wellbeing have an impact greater than the sum of their parts. Through creating collaborative networks it has enabled school leaders and practitioners to enhance their collective understanding and awareness of health and wellbeing and its impact on achievement. This has been done through;

  • A courageous group of PE2020 Headteacher Ambassadors; advocating, championing and influencing colleagues
  • A quality assured local faculty of tutors delivering high quality CPD
  • A revitalised Head of PE and special schools networks
  • A new Wellbeing Champion for seven schools

What we have learnt

Addressing the physical and emotional wellbeing of young people is critical to their future success in school, in the workplace and in life.  Whilst this is a complex issue for today’s young people we believe there is great value in how physical education and leading a healthy and active lifestyle can contribute to improved physical, social and emotional wellbeing.  What we have learned is that by taking this strategic and needs led approach we can help to prevent issues become a reality and improve the life chances of the ‘stressed out’ generation.

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