Nuffield Health and 2020health call for Head of Wellbeing in secondary schools, to combat obesity and poor mental health in pupils and teachers

Health think tank 2020health and not for profit healthcare organisation, Nuffield Health have joined forces to call for the introduction of a Head of Wellbeing role across secondary schools to help combat poor physical and mental health and wellbeing - both in children and their teachers.

In depth research, published today (7th January, 2015) highlights areas of concern and unmet need - including low levels of exercise, high levels of obesity and poor emotional wellbeing – and how these could be vastly improved with dedicated, coordinated support in the school setting.

In light of the findings, Nuffield Health has today committed to leading, evaluating and funding the first ever pilot of a Head of Wellbeing in a UK secondary school. The pilot will include the development of a health and wellbeing programme, which importantly will be designed to meet the needs of the local area.

According to figures compiled by 2020health, 75% of school children and young people living with mental illness go undiagnosed, which illustrates a need for wellbeing initiatives to focus both on physical and emotional factors. It also found that 73% of teaching staff felt their job had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing, suggesting that there should be more of a focus on teacher welfare.

The report identifies that secondary schools could improve overall levels of wellbeing by implementing a regular measurement of pupil wellbeing. Further findings call for the provision of additional staff training to help identify the early warning signs of mental health illness in young people, particularly as half of all diagnosable mental health conditions are thought to start before the age of 14 and 75% by the age of 21.

The research highlighted the most important influence on children's and young people’s development was found to be the parental home, closely followed by a school environment. With 24% of 11-15 year old boys recorded as obese in 2011 (among the highest levels recorded), a Head of Wellbeing could raise awareness among parents around good parenting skills and the importance of regulated screen-time, increased physical activity and a balanced diet.

As part of the project, 2020health held workshops within a number of schools where they were able to engage with staff and pupils alike. The feedback received outlined a clear need to raise wellbeing support within the whole school community and more of a focus on physical activity and nutrition.

David Mobbs, Nuffield Health’s Chief Executive, said:

"We are calling on secondary schools across the country to sit up and take note of the wellbeing of their staff and pupils. The issue of wellbeing within schools has been largely overlooked up until now. The Head of Wellbeing role will provide much needed support to Head Teachers to engage with pupils and staff, not just about physical wellbeing but also emotional wellbeing. This is why we are leading a new pilot to identify the benefits this role would have on the whole-school."

As well as the creation of a Head of Wellbeing role within a school setting, the pilot will include the development of a wellbeing strategy focusing on children, teachers and parents. Alongside an upgrade to all current fitness facilities, Nuffield Health will offer all teachers a 12 point health MOT* and introduce a new children’s health MOT, which focuses on nutrition, exercise and emotional wellbeing. A competition will be held to find a school to work with and the pilot will aim to begin in September 2015.

Nuffield Health and 2020health will build on the report’s steering group and collaborate with educational, research and wellbeing organisations to capture learning and improve health and wellbeing further.

Julia Manning, Chief Executive of 2020health, said:

"The pressures facing secondary-school pupils today are possibly at their greatest ever. Surrounded by consumerism, bombarded by social media, distracted by screen-time, destabilised by family breakdown, stressed by academic targets, deceived by digitally-altered celebrity images and exposed to damaging messages of on-line pornography, it is no wonder that many children find making the most of their education a tall order.

“The 2020health report highlights the potential positive outcomes that can be gained in employing a Head of Wellbeing. In theory it can help to address the underlying issues that affect staff and pupils’ wellbeing on a daily basis. We are delighted that Nuffield Health want to support a pilot of the role and we hope other schools will help us further determine how best to coordinate whole-school wellbeing support."

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair, Health Select Committee, said:

"I welcome this thoughtful report and support the proposal to pilot Heads of Wellbeing within secondary schools and to explore their potential to improve wellbeing across the whole school community."

Click here to view a copy of the full report >>

Last updated Monday 21 March 2016

First published on Wednesday 7 January 2015