Evolve Health Mentors embedded in primary schools are having a powerful effect on the whole education agenda, an independent research study has found.
A leading Professor of Physical Activity and Health is calling for greater use of Health Mentors in schools after a report found they are having a positive impact on changing the emotional wellbeing and behaviour of children.
A research study led by Professor Jim McKenna of Leeds Beckett University, has found the work of Health Mentors from social impact company’s Evolve’s Project HE:RO led to previously inattentive pupils doing better in lessons.
And by building positive relationships with both pupils and staff the mentors’ short-term benefits of boosting emotional wellbeing are likely to extend to a healthy future life and higher academic progress for all pupils.
A researcher shadowed trained Evolve staff in four schools in Keighley, West Yorkshire, for five days as they mentored children using increased physical activity and one-to-one help with learning when needed.
Professor McKenna said: “This project that builds positive relationships works better than anything like it that we’ve seen brought into schools.”
“The work of the Health Mentors is having a profound effect on the whole school environment. Although the mentors tend to work with disruptive children, that impact extends to all children. If a teacher has a class of smiling children this helps the behaviour of everyone in that class. That improves all classroom activity.
“I would like to see the health mentoring scaled-up into more schools. That would see a notch up in children’s performance by displacing a lot of anti-social behaviour.”
Professor McKenna added: “Any school might benefit where it has similar issues to those in the Keighley schools we visited. That said, there are many schools that are already very well served for adult ‘presence’. Most, however, are not well served by adults who bring an activity-oriented approach to learning.”
The Evolve programmes are active in London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Bradford and Nottingham, where they are having a positive impact.
Professor McKenna explained that by improving physical activity and health and promoting positive behaviour, children learn self-control in the classroom and for the rest of their lives. “In the short-, mid- and long-term this helps enhance positive behaviours and prevents anti-social and criminal behaviours.
“If success only comes in a chaotic way, children don’t learn how to control their achievements. It is crucial that children learn how to control success in a structured way before the age of ten,” he said.
“Some boys don’t have meaningful relationships with male adults as primary school teachers are predominantly female. Few of these boys had any gifted male role models show any interest in them. Through Project HE:RO they have access to adults they can trust. This results in emotional wellbeing; once that’s in place, then we are in business for better learning.
“The mentors are having a powerful effect in unlocking success and supporting the oasis of learning that teachers are working so hard to create.”
The research was commissioned by Bradford Public Health to evaluate the impact of Health Mentors. Independent researcher Stephen Zwolinsky observed the mentors, interviewed teachers about their experiences, collected data and identified the impacts of physical activity and social behaviour.
He said: “Project HE:RO supports children’s holistic development. With a particular focus on increasing their contact with supportive adults, mentors energetically promote physical activity.”
“Evolve carefully recruits and trains young, active and highly motivated staff.”
“The teaching staff and head teachers I spoke to were all fulsome in their praise for the positive addition to the staffing and the importance of the mentors’ contribution.”
“It was fantastic to see how the inspiring role models built relationships with the pupils and made such a difference. I wasn’t expecting to see such amazing changes in behaviour, self confidence and academic achievement.” A class teacher who was interviewed for the study said: “The confidence he has built there is amazing, a real big change, you see a huge difference. The pupil he is working with has massively grown in confidence.”
And a head teacher said: “It’s about meeting the social and emotional needs of the children, if you can’t concentrate, have no confidence or lack self-esteem then the classroom is a very difficult place. Building that up, for me, is so important before you can start learning.”
Birmingham-based Evolve director John Bishop said the findings of the report are welcomed and he hopes the study will be taken seriously by education leaders.
“Our strength is bringing children’s health and education together,” he said.
“We combat inactivity and obesity through active learning and this is improving basic numeracy and literacy. The research shows that one of our biggest assets is improving the emotional wellbeing of pupils too.”
His co-director, Keighley-based Graham Morgan said Evolve is commissioned by individual head teachers to provide successful health intervention. “Physical activity is helping prevent future illnesses that cost the NHS millions, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. We can help prevent these conditions.
“Our success has come from careful recruitment, rigorous training and the excellent rapport our Health Mentors develop when engaging with children.”
Project HE:RO (Healthy Engagement: Real Outcomes) has been running since 20 and delivers programmes to 120 primary schools.
For more information about Evolve visit http://www.evolvesi.com
To view the full evaluation report of Project HERO click here