The headteacher who made getting active a mission for the whole school

Darren Rubin

Darren is the Executive Head of School at St John’s C of E primary school in Bethnal Green, London. Darren wants pupils to grow up learning how to be good citizens and contribute to society knowing that they have a big role to play. Furthermore, he wants pupils to learn about being healthy and is proud to be one of a small number of schools in the borough that provide lessons on cookery and nutrition.

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The benefits of physical activity are well known to teachers. Being physically active can lead to improvements in the classroom, such as increased self-esteem and better concentration levels, which then contribute to greater academic achievement. Yet, even with so many positive benefits, it can be a big challenge for teachers to prioritise physical activity every day. I’ve seen first-hand the benefits for my pupils, so I’ve made getting active at St. John’s CE Primary School a priority for the whole school.

It is recommended that children need a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity each day1; it is suggested 30 minutes in school and 30 minutes outside of school2. Whilst PE classes map out a specific time each week for children to engage in physical activity, more needs to be done throughout each school day to reach the recommended level of physical activity. Any teacher will tell you that the most effective way for children to learn is through sustained daily engagement with their classes, and getting active needs to be treated the same.

At my school, we have found that using fun activities which pupils can easily relate to is a really useful entry point in encouraging them to be more active throughout the day. It helps to understand what pupils are interested in - I’ve found that all pupils enjoy physical activity, they just need the right motivation. And we’ve seen a significant difference in the general engagement of our more active pupils.

We’ve had real success using the Change4Life and Disney 10 Minute Shake Up games. Each Shake Up is modelled on an activity inspired by a popular Disney character, which has proved to be the perfect incentive to get children, especially those who don’t show much interest in sport, excited and involved with physical activity. Teachers found the role play lesson starters were a great way to get pupils moving, energised and ready for learning at the start of class.

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By introducing the Shake Up games as part of an active whole school assembly, I got the chance to see first-hand the excitement pupils had for this programme – the children really enjoyed it! They responded to each of the Disney characters and the different moves associated with each of them. There was something for everyone, as the characters and stories are so varied. My younger pupils were drawn to the games inspired by the Toy Story 4 characters, whilst older boys and girls were more interested in the Incredibles 2 ones.

School programmes like this offer new ways of engaging a wide range of primary pupils but what remains a challenge is getting children to stay active outside of the classroom. It can be just as difficult at home, especially when many families assume that getting active in school is all their children need. We find that the best way to build on pupils’ physical activity in school is to keep families and carers informed through the school’s social media accounts or when chatting to them at pick-up times. By building in fun, active games both at school and at home, children are well on their way to achieving their 60 recommended minutes each day. By teaching pupils about nutrition and healthy eating, alongside increased physical activity, teachers can help set a foundation to help their pupils develop well and lead happy and healthy lives.

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Simplicity is key when running programmes and initiatives in a school. Programmes like the Change4Life Disney inspired 10 Minute Shake Up work for me because they are easy to deliver. I don’t want to give anything to my teachers that will take a long time to set up. The resources are already there for the teachers, so they are simple to administer and can fit into a teacher’s busy schedule. By working alongside the school health mentor, teachers and families, we can make a positive and long-lasting change to the lives of pupils.

I find keeping our pupils active is a lot easier than people think, especially when you give children the opportunity to understand the benefits of getting their heart rates up. It’s important to make children’s interests the focus, by ensuring that getting active is simple, relatable and fun.
It’s so exciting to see how engaged the whole school has become about participating in the 10 Minute Shake Up and we look forward to continuing with the programme and building healthier long-term habits.


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1 Department of Health, 2011: Start Active, Stay Active. A report on physical activity for health from the four home countries’ Chief Medical Officers.

2 Childhood Obesity Plan, 2016: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/childhood-obesity-a-plan-for-action/childhood-obesity-a-plan-for-action

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