Thursday 5 June. This was the day we would launch the School Health Research Network, a new network connecting secondary schools in Wales with researchers and other organisations, to develop and use evidence on school health improvement. Although we had communicated with schools, this would be the first time we would meet most of the representatives from network schools face-to-face. By the end of the day, we would know if our plans had been well received by the most important stakeholders – the schools.
The week had been busy, with considerable media interest and the much anticipated arrival of Steve Manske from the University of Waterloo. His work on SHAPES (School Health Action, Planning and Evaluation System) in Canada had provided much inspiration for our own network.
It was a beautiful summer’s day as we made our way to City Hall in the centre of Cardiff. The rooms we were using were all bathed in sunshine and looked very inviting. It wasn’t long before participants began to arrive from all across Wales, and there was a buzz of conversation. We had invited one representative from each school: headteachers, other members of senior leadership teams, PSHE and healthy school coordinators were all gathered to hear our plans.
It was clear from the first session that everyone had a positive attitude and desire to get the most from the day. It was interesting to hear what had encouraged individual schools to sign up to the Network – such as wanting to better understand emerging health issues, and using robust data on wellbeing to focus on priority areas. We were all enthralled to hear about the experiences that Steve Manske relayed about the health issues in schools in Canada and the innovative approaches taken by SHAPES schools in trying to address them.
It had always been important that the School Health Research Network would not be a standalone project but would support and collaborate with existing work. We are lucky in Wales to have impressive infrastructure already in place to support the health and wellbeing of young people, the cornerstone being the Welsh Network of Healthy School Schemes. Mary Macdonald’s presentation on her work as lead of the WNHSS for Public Health Wales, and how it will work with SHRN, confirmed the symbiotic nature of the two networks.
After we had presented our aims and how we hoped to meet them, we gained valuable feedback on the individualised reports on student health behaviour that will be produced for all Network schools based on their students’ responses to the HBSC survey. Overall, these were received incredibly positively, and helpful suggestions were made for further improvements to the reports’ content and appearance.
Lunch provided an opportunity to meet and chat with people informally, and it really felt as if we were coming together for an exciting new initiative that was welcomed by all.
The event was one of two halves. The afternoon gave those attending a chance to learn about the resources and incentives on offer to Network schools. These were presented by Network partners such as Cancer Research UK and Cardiff University Community Engagement team, and interested organisations such as Tenovus and The Filter that want to support Network schools. Despite my concerns that we may have had too many presentations, somehow everyone kept to time – it seems there are benefits to having an ex-teacher in charge! I was struck by the wide range of interesting and stimulating resources being described: from the CRUK game that young people can play while at the same time helping scientists with their research, to fun educational sessions offered by staff and students from Cardiff University. Again, it was incredibly useful to get feedback from the schools themselves on what would be most valuable to them.
Before we could believe it, the day was over. It was wonderful to hear the positive comments from people as they left. We felt our hard work had been rewarded when we received the following comments, which reflect the feelings of the day:
“What a great day, so well organised. It flew along and was just the right length. The input from all the speakers was really useful and professional. Great for us to have a different perspective from Canada. These events are difficult to organise I know as I do them for school… it was seamless.”
“Many thanks for today. To be honest when I first got involved it was done to raise much needed funds for the PE department* but I am so glad I did now. The day was uplifting and I came away enthused! An opportunity to have data that we can work from to improve our school is invaluable in the evidence/outcomes world we live in. The chance to share resources, expertise and knowledge is an exciting one.”
We are now gathering feedback from the schools that were unable to attend the event and are finding the same mix of praise and practical, constructive suggestions for improvement. Taking these into account, we are confident that we will have a blueprint to ensure the School Health Research Network should suit schools, policy colleagues and researchers.
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who’s been involved so far for their enthusiasm and support. Watch this space to find out what happens next!
About the author: Joan Roberts is the Manager of the School Health Research Network (SHRN). This is a network of secondary schools in Wales who have joined together with researchers, the Welsh Government and other organisations to support young people’s health. Find out more at SHRN.org.uk or follow @SHRNWales on Twitter. DECIPHer is a partner in SHRN and is carrying out a scoping and feasibility study – for more information, see the project information page.
Image of city hall: Frattaglia, via Flickr.