24 Jun

The School Run

School pupils running

The simplest ideas often turn out to be the best ones. Take for example, the Scottish primary school which recently made headlines by ensuring every pupil walked or ran at least one mile every day. The ‘daily mile’ hosted by St Ninian’s Primary near Stirling has helped improve the health of pupils and has also been credited with improving their overall educational and social development.  

The scheme was launched three years ago after a school volunteer voiced concerns that the children were unfit and lacked stamina. Putting the observation to the test, a group of pupils were asked to run around the field. They were either unable or they become exhausted very quickly.

It prompted staff to launch the daily mile on a specially built circuit around the school’s playground. The 15 minute activity takes place away from break-time and PE. It is not timetabled and each teacher takes their class out at their own choosing.

Teachers reckon that the scheme has had multiple positive impacts on the pupils. Head Elaine Wyllie told BBC Scotland: "Not one of our 57 primary one children are overweight as measured by the nurse.The children are fit and healthy, they come in energised ready to learn and focused, apple cheeked and bright eyed."

A number of schools have copied the initiative and Stirling University are now studying the health and wellbeing of the children.

Its success is welcome, but also unsurprising. In fact, the greater mystery is why this type of regular activity that is free and healthy is not part of the school curriculum - particularly as children so enjoy running. Granted, that’s a broad statement to make - but it’s what I see. 

It was vivid on a recent trip with my family to a local village fete in Devon. It was a typical Bank Holiday event with a happy crowd enjoying a hog roast, a coconut shy, tug of war, a bouncy castle and morris dancers in a tree-lined field. There were junior races in which almost every young child took part. Sure there were some tears – such was the enormity of the occasion for a few little ones. But it was a picture of beaming, smiley excitement. Wave after wave of children lined up to experience the simple joy of running, no matter whether they finished first or 21st.

Later on, I took part in the adult one mile event, which was great fun. But the best part was the reaction of my two young children, my nieces and nephew afterwards. They were so enthused after seeing their dad and uncle run. They had me running with them up and down the park for 20 minutes afterwards, laughing and screaming all the way. Like my fellow runners in their 40s and beyond, I rediscovered the simple joy of running in later years.

The same joy that young children find in running you find at every adult 10k or half marathon, where the smiles are often just as broad at the back of the field as they are at the front.

So why then - for so many - does the joy of running disappear between times; never to return for the majority? Is it because what comes natural stops being nurtured?

Of course it doesn’t help when the Government’s Education Secretary attempts to classify running as a punishment. With respect to the right honourable gentleman, running can be very enjoyable for everybody. The rewards from running are not just the preserve of race winners. We see this in young children and adults. There is not just health, but happiness in running. So why then is running not a bigger part of school life for primary and secondary students? Should it not be a regular part of the curriculum? The campaign starts here.