Ofsted's report on obesity slammed for ignoring experts

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The expert panel who advised Ofsted on its obesity report, claim that the inspectorate has gone against its advice by saying that schools are not the ‘silver bullet’ to tackling childhood obesity.

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Ofsted's chief inspector Amanda Spielman launched its report on obesity, healthy eating and physical activity today to much criticism

Published today, the inspectorate’s report into obesity, healthy eating and physical activity in primary schools says that while schools have an important role to play in encouraging healthy lifestyles and exercise, lobby groups should not see them as the answer to tackling childhood obesity.

Ofsted argues that expecting too much of schools will not solve the problem and risks further increasing teacher workload. It says that schools should focus on improving the things they are best placed to do.

The report is based upon evidence from inspections of 60 primary schools in England, which Ofsted found have responded well to Government initiatives around physical activity and healthy eating. Ofsted said it could not find any proof that these interventions alone could overcome other factors that affect the weight of their pupils.

Ofsted has however been criticised by experts who contributed to the research as they claim it is 'flawed' and ignores their advice and that of Public Health England (PHE).

The Soil Association, School Food Plan Alliance and School Food Matters, who have asked for their names to be removed from the report, claim they consistently advised that the focus of the review to be on the extent to which schools show leadership through a ‘whole school approach', but say that Ofsted has actively discouraged this and instead, is urging schools to reduce their focus to classroom knowledge and skills alone.

The Social Association’s policy and campaigns manager Rob Percival said, ‘Ofsted’s review of obesity, healthy eating and physical activity in schools has got it completely wrong. It was conducted on the basis of a flawed methodology and an inadequate understanding of behaviour change. In publishing this report, Ofsted has flagrantly disregarded the advice of its own expert advisory panel and risks undermining the vital efforts that schools are making to support children to eat well at a time when the Government is taking concerted action to tackle childhood obesity. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector should be placed in special measures.

‘Our overriding concern is Ofsted’s disregard for the advice of its own expert advisory panel.

‘A "whole school approach" that makes schools "healthy zones" has been robustly evaluated by the University of the West of England and shown to have a significant impact on healthy eating behaviours. Pupils in schools adopting such an approach via the Food for Life School Award are twice as likely to eat their five-a-day compared to children in matched comparison schools. Ofsted’s disregard for this evidence is absurd.

He added, ‘Despite the review purportedly focussing on obesity, healthy eating and physical activity, healthy eating outcomes such as fruit and vegetable consumption are explicitly disregarded – the only valid outcome is assumed to be a reduction in obesity levels. Public Health England advised Ofsted in clear terms that the methodology and sampling approach were not appropriate or adequate to support the inferences made on the contribution of schools’ activities to obesity levels. It is outrageous that Ofsted has published such a transparently biased report.

‘Ofsted can and should play a positive role in supporting healthy eating in schools, including by promoting excellence in school leadership in relation to school food. The first chapter of the Obesity Plan committed Ofsted to taking account of the proposed healthy rating scheme for primary schools. We welcome this commitment and look forward to further clarification of Ofsted’s role in this regard.’

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman said, ‘Obesity is a serious public health challenge with wide-ranging and deep-rooted effects. Schools have an important role to play in the fight against childhood obesity. A broad curriculum, which emphasises healthy lifestyles and high-quality PE is vital to this, but is too often given insufficient focus.

‘We must also recognise that schools cannot provide a silver bullet for all societal ills. Teachers and school leaders are already stretched; they should not be held responsible for an issue that requires concerted action across the board.

‘Families, Government, industry, and other parts of the public sector all have a role to play in making food and drink healthier, and supporting children to make better choices.’

Commenting on the report from Ofsted, Dr Max Davie, Officer for Health Promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said, 'Ofsted are correct in saying that schools alone are not a "silver bullet" when it comes to tackling childhood obesity. A variety of measures need to be implemented and at all levels in order to see improvements. However it cannot be ignored that schools are well-placed to impart knowledge from an early age. Evidenced based and professionally delivered Personal Social Health Education (PSHE) which explores healthy lifestyles, exercise and wellbeing is an effective way to do that. This information will enable children to make informed decisions about their health that will influence the rest of their lives.

'However, there are a number of environmental factors that impact children every day, and the onus cannot fall to schools alone. Children are being bombarded with fast food outlets and junk food advertising, and we know that this impacts the amount of food high in fat, salt and sugar that they go on to consume. They are also met with numerous fast food restaurants near the school gates offering unhealthy food at pocket money prices. In order to protect children from the harms of obesity, we want to see a ban on advertising for foods high in fat, salt and sugar before 9pm on television and for all on-demand services and would support local authorities in their efforts to restrict the opening of new fast food outlets in close proximity to schools.'

  • Ofsted's report, 'Obesity, healthy eating and physical activity in primary schools' is available to download here
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