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Should schools be policing children’s diet and exercise?

This morning, the news in the UK featured a story “Parents ‘must not abdicate duties’ to teachers, says Ofsted” The heart of the story is that Amanda Spielman, the boss of OFSTED (the organization that judges the standards in schools), is due to deliver a speech that states:

Parents should not expect schools to police children’s eating and exercise, or toilet train pupils

While I am in agreement with the sentiments that are to be expressed in her annual report — good schooling does not replace good parenting. There is one small question niggling in the back of my mind.

Who teaches people to be good parents? Where do they learn how to parent? Babies don’t come with instruction manuals.

There have been a number of studies that show, despite intervention in schools obesity rates rise as children progress through primary school to secondary school. In other words, schools are wasting their time and effort trying to combat obesity as their interventions are making no difference.

The biggest impact on whether children are obese or not is their parents and the food that they eat. But in many cases, the parents are in the same situation. They have made poor choices in their diet and are obese themselves. Why? Because they didn’t get the information and education they needed when they were young.

Schools should not be policing food consumption, it is not their job. But they should be preparing children for life in the future. The three biggest markets in internet sales affect health, wealth and relationships. In fact, most marketing is aimed at one of these areas. Those razors you buy make you look so much sexier (relationships), buying this car is a symbol of your wealth, drink this yogurt drink, it will do amazing things to your stomach (health).

Schools should be preparing children the same way, they should be healthy, able to form strong relationships and have the skills (that if they apply them) will enable them to become wealthy enough not to rely on the state for support.

Physical Education is not about getting children “out of breath” once or twice a week. It should be something that is studied daily. It should be about developing habits in exercise AND in learning to prepare and eat the right foods.

If children are taught at a young age that we should exercise daily (and that can take many forms) we would all be fitter! If children are taught from a young age that good food is essential for a healthy body, then we would all eat better. The decline in teaching cooking to all pupils since the 1980s has been matched by a rise in obesity — this cannot be a mere coincidence.

Currently, there is no time in the education system to allow it, instead, children are expected to learn knowledge that has no relevance to their lives and their future.

Years later, as they suffer the complications brought about by obesity, type 2 diabetes, joints that can’t support their weight, I am sure that they are comforted by the fact that they have learned the names and manner of death of the wives of Henry VIII.

Yes, parents have a responsibility to prepare their children for life. But no one has prepared them to be parents. We can lament that their parents should have taught them but didn’t. But does this actually solve the problem?

In a society that demands more and more from parents in terms of their time (and more and more of their money to pay for childcare), parents who could teach their children to be parents that have no time. Other parents who have time, often have no money or the skills to pass on. They were never taught them in the first place.

Schools should not be potty training children, they should not be dealing with some of the complex issues that they are forced to deal with. Amanda Spielman is correct on that part. Schools are doing too much. They need to be doing less to achieve more. But the question is, what is it that schools should be trying to achieve?

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