‘ For three-and-a-half years, all pupils at St Ninians primary have walked or run a mile each day. They do so at random times during the day, apparently happily, and despite the rise in childhood obesity across the UK, none of the children at the school are overweight.
‘The daily mile has done so much to improve these children’s fitness, behaviour and concentration in lessons that scores of nursery and primary schools across Britain are following suit and getting pupils to get up from their desks and take 15 minutes to walk or run round the school or local park.‘ The Guardian Monday 28 September.
The scheme was introduced by the now retired Headteacher, Elaine Wyllie. In an interesting interview on the Today Programme (6 November. The interview starts at 2.43.32, near the end of the programme) she filled out more details of the scheme:
• children are free to run or walk, to go at their own pace;
• they can walk or run with friends – it’s sociable;
• it’s not competitive;
• children are out in almost all weathers, ‘children respond to being out in weather’;
• no kit required or changing, so avoids body image/shyness of some children;
• parents report that their children are fitter, less fractious, sleep better as result of the initiative;
• school nurse reports heightened levels of fitness compared to other schools;
• children are ‘more focused’ when they return to the classroom;
• the initiative is virtually cost free;
• it’s not in fact the ‘Daily Mile’ but the ‘Daily Fifteen Minutes’ – this underpinning its non-competitive nature.
Notice that the claimed benefits of the Daily Mile run are not dissimilar to the benefits claimed by those advocating the importance of play in schools .
The evidence adduced for the benefits of the Daily Mile are now to be assessed by an independent, comparative, Stirling University study. Nevertheless, the evidence thus far adduced – anecdotal, qualitative, quantitative, observational, personal reportage – is convincing and on a par with much of the evidence adduced in support of play at school.
I now invite you to cast yourself into the role of an independent advisor to schools. Your brief, to recommend, on a cost-benefit basis, what might be the best approach for schools to take in the pursuit of, for example: raising school attainment – making children ‘learning ready’; increasing general fitness; lowering obesity rates; enhancing children’s enjoyment of school.
In coming to a judgment, you will of course need to take into account other school needs and priorities: leaking roof; need to fund out of school trips; enhance school diet at lunchtime, and so forth.
The choices before you include, for example: training school playground supervisors in play and playwork practice; developing with schools a play policy; purchase a playpod, with attendant training; design a natural school playground environment – fallen trees, boulders, growing areas and so forth. All of these approaches carry a cost, sometimes quite significant.
And then there’s the ‘Daily Mile’ as one of the choices.
What might your independent advice be?
Now that the arguments for play are so thoroughly instrumentalised, what purchase does a predominately, pretty well exclusive, evidence-based approach have, especially when viewed in the real-world context of competing priorities?