Children’s health in Wales facing national crisis
Wales is facing a national crisis in terms of our children's health, according to the National Assembly's Health, Social Care and Sport Committee.
During its inquiry into 'Physical Activity of Children and Young People', the committee heard stark evidence that 'levels of physical activity and sedentariness among children in Wales are some of the poorest globally'.
Latest figures from the Public Health Wales Child Measurement Programme show an increase in the number of obese four to five year olds over the last two years with more than one in four children aged four to five now overweight or obese.
The committee is concerned that Fundamental Motor Skills are not being taught to young children in Wales and that there is a common misconception that these skills will develop naturally in childhood. It heard that children who are delayed in Fundamental Motor Skills (FMS) are less likely to be physically active now and in future.
Dr Nalda Wainwright, Director of the Wales Institute for Physical Literacy (WIPL), told the Committee:
"[…] we train the teachers to understand how children move through those stages. They do it in literacy and numeracy, but nobody's taught them that in a physical context. There's been such a misconception in the world of academia around motor development—suggesting children learn that by themselves through play. But that's like chucking a bag of letters in the room and saying, 'Play with it enough and you'll learn to read', and teachers go, 'That's ridiculous'. It's the same thing. So, we really need to plug this knowledge gap with our teachers and that's what we've been doing, and rolling it out."
The Committee agreed with stakeholders that schools have a vital role to play in getting children and young people to be more physically active.
It is concerned that physical activity may be squeezed out of school timetables due to curriculum pressures, and the many Welsh schools are falling short of providing the recommended 120 minutes a week for physical education.
Tim Pratt, from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said:
"I think one of the biggest issues that we face at the moment is to do with the accountability system that we have currently, which is pushing more and more schools into putting more and more time into important things that the students need for exams, but at the expense of other areas. So, what we're finding more and more is that, in order to provide extra time for numeracy or literacy, schools are saying, 'Well, something's got to go to give us that time, so we'll take a bit out of PE, we'll take a bit out of dance, we'll take a bit out of music' or whatever it is."
The Committee believes physical activity is not given enough priority in schools and that this must change. Members believe the development of the forthcoming new curriculum offers an opportunity to redress the balance by giving physical activity the attention and priority it deserves.
"We have heard perhaps some of the starkest evidence yet that we are facing a national crisis in our children's health," said Dai Lloyd AM, Chair of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee.
"The evidence supporting the need to teach Fundamental Motor Skills at an early age is compelling and there is real concern that vital physical activity is being squeezed out by other priorities in our schools.
"But of course, it's not just about schools. Physical inactivity is a national problem that affects us all, and requires a cross-departmental commitment from the Welsh Government to tackle it.
"If we don't start taking urgent action now to change attitudes towards physical activity, we are storing up problems for generations to come."
The Committee makes 20 recommendations in its report, including:
- That the Welsh Government takes further action in the new curriculum to ensure that every child in Wales is enabled to develop the essential Fundamental Motor Skills required at an early age in school, and ensure that current gaps in the foundation phase related to these skills are fully addressed;
- That the Welsh Government makes the recommended 120 minutes of physical education in schools a minimum statutory requirement;
- That the Welsh Government must make Community Focused Schools a reality for everyone, and ensure consistency of access to school facilities for physical activity opportunities beyond schools hours across Wales.
The report will now be considered by the Welsh Government.
Read the full report:
Physical Activity of Children and Young People (PDF, 564 KB)