Should schools really be tasked with tackling teenage pregnancy and obesity?

Schools might be set targets to improve aspects of students’ lives over which teachers have no control. Dawn Forshaw argues this smacks of a quick fix

With teenage pregnancy rates among the highest in Europe and many young people, some pre-teen, revealing that they are experimenting with drugs, is it right that schools should be seen as one of the main bodies charged with the task of reducing these alarming statistics?

In a recently leaked discussion document entitled Indicators of Schools’ Performance in Contributing to Pupil Wellbeing, there are signs that the government is indeed considering setting targets for schools linked to obesity, pregnancy rates and various other social indicators. In fact 18 areas in total are identified, above and beyond those that schools are already responsible for under the Every Child Matters Agenda.

Schools already have a responsibility, which is inspected under the Ofsted framework, for pupil well-being in a broad sense, including what measures a school employs to encourage children to take exercise and eat healthily. At the present time, schools must also report on test and exam results achieved by pupils as well as exclusion and absence rates for those children.

The discussion document reveals that the government intends to go a lot further with plans for schools to keep records on numbers of teenage pregnancies, entrance to the youth justice system, obesity rates and so on. However, although it may begin as a record-keeping exercise, how long will it be before schools are then given targets that relate to improving those rates, which demand improvement year on year if a school is to be judged to be successful?

I am suspicious of discussion documents. Past experience suggests to me that the government often pays lip service to having a discussion with professional bodies, and then fails to take a blind bit of notice of the feedback from them.

Schools do have a part to play in seeking to improve the well-being of children, and I certainly regard schools as a major partner in such initiatives. But I regard the word partner as vital. I find it difficult to understand how the government can believe that schools can have an impact on such things in a young person’s life.

Research has shown that at least 85% of the variation in children’s achievement is due to factors external to school. As professionals concerned with the welfare of young people, we are all aware of the importance of parental involvement. Home influence has a big impact on a young person’s self-esteem and the likelihood that they will fulfil their potential, as does poverty, peer pressure and the influence of the media.

Given all these influences on young people, how odd that the government should choose to target just schools and make them accountable for improving these targets, through Ofsted inspections.

This proposal suggests to me a government desperate to develop a plan to fix a problem with no clear or logical rationale underpinning it, which sounds awfully familiar to me. As a head teacher I welcome the opportunity to work with other professionals to try to impact on the social indicators identified in the discussion document and I am glad to see the improvements that have come about as a result of cross agency co-operation with the Every Child Matters Agenda.

But I remain unconvinced about setting targets for schools that relate to factors over which they have limited control.

Dawn Forshaw is the head teacher at Wellfield Church Primary School, Burnley, Lancashire

This article appears in the 29 May issue under the headline “Teachers have a role to play in children’s lives – as partners”

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.