Victoria Academy in Barrow-in-Furness have built a successful track history of engaging their students in research in recent years; bringing businesses and schools together to develop meaningful learning opportunities, anchored in life beyond the school gates. So, it was no surprise when their local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) came to them to explore how children could be involved in improving the health of their community.
The area struggles with high levels of obesity and has one of the worst mortality rates in the UK. Public Health interventions that the CCG had tried simply weren’t working, and so an innovative approach to health and wellbeing seemed to be a positive alternative to try.
Working in collaboration, the school and CCG developed a project that would involve six local schools, including two in the most deprived wards, whose year 5 students (aged 9-10) would become ‘mini-researchers’ into public health and prevention approaches for their communities.
The project kicked off with 300 students visiting a local college for an introductory day, where they learned about key public health issues, such as diet, exercise, smoking and resilience. After the initial event, four students from each school have acted as representatives for their schools, attending workshops and connecting their peers to the central work of the project.
The project then honed in on one key issue affecting the health of the locality – diet. Each school’s mini-researchers developed their own idea to address not only the diets of the children but of their entire families, extending the positive reach of the project to parents’ wellbeing too. The ideas that came out of the project varied a great deal from school to school, offering varied learning and insights to the CCG. One of the schools decided to assess their tuck shop and the impact the snacks they sold had on students’ diets, whilst another launched ‘make and eat’ parent restaurants, to try out affordable healthy recipes they could use at home.
The project will conclude with students presenting their findings to the CCG, offering their recommendations on health improvement from what they’ve learned. The presentations will bring all six schools together in celebration with not only the CCG but local GPs, councillors and leisure services.
The benefits of this work have been wide-ranging, from introducing new schools in the area to the benefits of social action, to empowering students to solve real problems and make a difference. Victoria Academy Head Caroline Vernon has observed students becoming more organised learners as a result of taking part in the project, as well as improving their ability to make informed choices about their health and wellbeing. In addition, the multiple school approach has allowed children to meet and work alongside new students, which will greatly support their transition into secondary education.
Following on from the great success of its first year, the project is set to expand in the 2017/18 academic year, with new schools joining, and a new focus on healthy living through exercise.