Why Schools Can Play an Important Role in Young People’s Health

 

By Danny Bowman, Director of Mental Health

This is the first of six blog posts looking at innovative ways in which we can reform and improve healthcare in the United Kingdom.

When we think of healthcare in the United Kingdom, it would be a surprise if every citizen didn’t immediately think of the three words that have defined our approach to health for 70 years; the National Health Service.

The NHS has unquestionably been the best solution when it comes to managing our citizens health from ‘cradle to grave’, but we must not become dogmatic on healthcare.

Whilst acknowledging the importance of such a service, we need to look at new innovative solutions to the constant stress around healthcare.

One of the key areas of health that has caused constant worry for contemporary society is children and young people’s health. From increased levels of anxiety and depression to the challenge of obesity, children and young people’s health continues to be a concern in contemporary Britain.

I believe in the worth of schools when it comes to maintaining the positive health of our younger generation. We sometimes forget that most children and young people spend a minimum of six hours at school from Monday to Friday’s.

Schools also bring together different areas of society enabling a better outlook of the growing health problems facing our young people.

This makes schools a perfect place to peruse the positive health agenda working towards the prevention of illness.

The issue with health and education decision making is that too often choices are made that don’t reflect the diversity and make-up of schools and health concerns in different areas of the country.

For example, the health concerns of someone living in a city environment would differ from someone growing up in a rural area and may also require different approaches to solve.

I believe that for successful, workable solutions to health issues effecting school-aged children we not only need to focus in on schools but localize our approach to enable the right, reflective solutions to be found depending on the school and area.

School Health Boards and Physical and Mental Health Partnerships

I believe we can create self-sufficient localised approaches to health through an apparatus like the health and wellbeing boards (HWBs) established under the Health and Social Care Act 2012. The Health and Wellbeing Boards (HWBs) conceived in 2012 looked to bring together leading figures in local health and care to improve local standards.

This approach is similar in the sense of integration, allowing a range of different people and organisations to work as part of the Health School Boards or the Physical and Mental Health partnerships to improve levels of good health among school aged children and young people.

Although the approach I’m outlining below is like HWBs, it differs in a couple of areas:

  • It puts schools at the forefront of children and young people’s health
  • It gives more powers to pupils, teachers and parents who know the health issues effecting their school best, to make the decisions around health education and support.
  • It allows Health School Boards (HSBs) to be a micro executive decision-making body when it comes to health education and support within their school.
  • In addition, HSBs would be supported by area physical and mental health partnerships which would act as the organisation allocating the resources to individual schools. The Partnerships will oversee the arranging of events and campaigns for the local area.

Health School Boards- The Health School Boards would be run by pupils, teachers and parents who volunteer within a school. Every school would have their own Health School Board, meeting once a month to share ideas about how to improve health in that school, they would then be given certain powers to implement small changes in their school to improve health.

 This would allow changes to be made at a micro level. This could be through education on certain issues that may be needed in one school, but not another. This could help in the prevention of:

  • Negative behaviours which lead to negative health such as smoking, illegal drugs and alcohol.
  • Challenging obesity in young people through adapted school meals to fit the situation in a school environment. As well as recognising the dangers of under eating by implementing balanced diets in school.
  • Sexual education- allowing young people to be properly educated on sexual health at the appropriate age.

The next step in the apparatus would be area run through local councils, schools, local NHS trusts, local charities and local social enterprises through the creation of:

Physical Health and Mental Health Education Partnerships– The Physical and Mental Health Partnerships would be run area wide (e.g.) Northumberland.

The different organisations from the public, private, not-for-profit and charitable sector would work together to provide education on positive physical and mental health. They would work closely with local School Health Boards in understanding the key issues and the resources needed to improve the health and wellbeing of young people in their area.

They would oversee, providing innovative solutions in the prevention of negative physical and mental health.

The partnerships and those involved in running the partnerships would be given new powers to implement a range of different schemes involving all sectors to reduce the strain of negative health.

They would be provided with stronger governance arrangements to allow better sharing of information between the different sectors.

This would not only allow certain levels of targeting for pupils most vulnerable to being in bad health but allow sharing of expertise between the different groups which could lead to more innovative and successful solutions.

These two approaches would be overseen by the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Social Care.

School Health Boards – Physical and Mental Health Partnerships – Joint responsibility between Department of Education/ Department of Health and Social Care.

Conclusion

When it comes to children and young people’s health there are some major issues facing us including physical health and mental health difficulties.

The school environment in my opinion is the best route for the prevention of negative health.

Through this approach it offers a micro approach in the form of School Health Boards to address issues that may be facing individual schools through to a more comprehensive address of healthcare concerns at an area level and eventually at a national level.

By localizing our approach to young people’s health, we can make sure that we are addressing all young people’s health needs and not just providing a one size fits all approach. Every community’s health needs are different, and every school faces a range of health issues as well as the young people themselves

By creating and providing new powers to these boards and partnerships in the education of health and in the implementation of healthcare approaches at a more localized level, I believe we can meet the growing youth healthcare challenges of the 21st century.

 

One Comment

  1. Interesting view