A Physical blow

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Relegating the Chief Medical Officers' physical activity guidelines to a footnote in the revised EYFS is a dereliction of duty, says Dr Lala Manners


Dr Lala Manners

In 2011, the UK Chief Medical Officers’ physical activity guidelines for the early years were launched in response to increasing alarm over the state of young children’s physical health.

Broadly in line with those of Canada, Australia and the USA, they were created as a framework for professionals to address the woeful levels of physical activity that evidence suggested were not adequately supporting children’s physical development.

They were not well received at the time (cries of ‘nanny state’) – but they were considered by health professionals as providing a critical addition to available tools for obesity prevention and related health issues.

In 2016, the Childhood Obesity Strategy was finally revealed. Early years was included, and this document explicitly states that the EYFS curriculum ‘is to be updated to make specific reference’ to the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines.

This was a watershed moment. Once the curriculum included the guidelines, Ofsted would respond and begin to look for visible evidence that settings were implementing and embedding the 180 minutes of daily physical activity recommended.

Involvement by parents, practitioners and the wider community would be encouraged in a comprehensive effort to raise standards of children’s physical health and well-being.

In 2017, we now have the revised Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage. The Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines have been relegated to a footnote on page eight, as ‘guidance on physical activity that providers may wish to refer to’.

What an abject dereliction of duty by all concerned. Where is the incentive for anyone to read, let alone implement or embed, these guidelines in daily practice?

How come an initiative that was deemed important enough by the Department of Health to be included in the Obesity Strategy is considered completely superfluous by the DfE? Another fine mess. And who will suffer most?

Not adults – some of whom may be delighted not to have to accommodate physical activity guidance – but all those children whose life chances are compromised by the state of their physical health and their inability to take full advantage of the opportunities afforded them to fully explore their physical capabilities.

This should never have been allowed to happen. Why it has – and who is responsible – should be a matter of urgent debate.


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