Sport England funding to pay for major expansion of back-to-basics child exercise scheme

Originally published Dec.17, 2018 in The Guardian.

By Sally Weale

The Daily Mile, the back-to-basics fitness initiative for schoolchildren, has received a £1.5m cash injection from Sport England, which hopes to spread the word about it to every primary school in England.

The national lottery money represents the biggest expansion of the scheme which began six years ago with children at a primary school in Stirling running five laps round the playing field. It is now a regular fixture at 3,500 schools in England and for 1.25 million children worldwide.

The funding will pay for 11 local and two national co-ordinators to bring more of England’s 20,000 primary schools on board, with the aim of helping to improve child fitness and reduce obesity.

Wyllie, who retired after 40 years as a teacher, began the fitness drive after noticing that children in a year-five class were exhausted after being asked to do a moderate warm up. “I had often thought, why don’t children just run round the field to get fit?”

So she started her pupils on a 15-minute run every day – no change of clothes was necessary, no expensive equipment. “Very quickly it became evident they loved it. They were more focused in class, more content, more settled, and looking better. After a month they were keen to keep going.”

Sport England became involved after its survey earlier this month revealed that a third of children in England are doing less than 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Children from the poorest families are more likely to be less active.

Sport England’s chief executive, Tim Hollingsworth, said: “It’s the strongest evidence yet that not enough is being done to support our youngsters, and change is needed if we’re to increase activity levels.

“Through getting schoolchildren to walk or run for 15 minutes every day, the Daily Mile has been proven to significantly improve fitness levels. We want to take the initiative to even more primary schools across the county to improve the health of thousands more children.”

The coordinators will sign up schools and help get the scheme up and running, revisiting from time to time to make sure it’s still fresh and fun for the children. The hope is that the return on the £1.5m investment will be children who develop positive attitudes to exercise, so they are more likely to develop healthy active lives into adulthood.

Wyllie said she was delighted that more children were going to get the chance to join in and enjoy the benefits. “It’s free – all day and every day. There’s no cost. It’s inclusive of all – girls and boys, children with special educational needs. There are no under-represented groups,” she said.

“On that day back in 2012 we stumbled on a partial solution to help children’s physical and mental health and well-being. This is just about children and childhood.”

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