Summer holidays for the School Health Research Network

My last blog was in the summer term, just after the launch of the School Health Research Network. I was excited that the teachers reacted so positively to our plans and had been able to suggest lots of practical ways of tailoring them to suit schools in Wales. It was a vibrant and positive start to collaborative working with schools.

What happened next?

Since the launch, we have been working with the data collected by network schools through the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey, which was undertaken by one class from each year group from Year 7 – 11. With the invaluable help of the South East Wales Trial Unit, we have been able to give tailored feedback to each network school on their school’s HBSC data. Each school has been given a Health and Wellbeing Report, with easy to read charts and suggested ways that schools can use their data. These were sent to headteachers of network schools at the end of the summer term.

Menai Straits, near Anglesey – and some of the local wildlife

Reaching out

We were very keen to gauge teachers’ views of these reports and to meet up with staff from schools thatwere unable to send representatives to the launch. Initial visits have been made following requests from schools or local Healthy School Schemes. I spent a stimulating couple of hot sunny days in Anglesey and Gwynedd visiting their network schools in mid-September and a week later was hosted by the Healthy Schools Coordinator in Denbighshire, allowing me to meet teachers from network schools there.

It was really valuable to meet representatives from these schools and hear what they thought of the reports. Their positive reaction to these echoed the feedback we were given at the launch  – they felt that the reports were accessible and easy to read, and that the data in the reports was well chosen. They also liked the guidance on how the reports could be used in school, and the fact that this is similar in style to the guidance for Healthy Schools actions. This ‘joined up thinking’ has been key to our aim of making the reports as useful as possible for the schools, so it’s great to get such positive feedback.

As well as discussing the reports and the network’s plans, the network schools in North Wales also told me a whole host of exciting plans for using the data. These include:

  • Sharing their reports with student groups such as the school council
  • Sharing with parent groups
  • Informing priorities within the Healthy Schools programme
  • Using data to plan and deliver relevant PSE programmes and to support students in their Welsh Baccalaureate
  • Using data in other lessons – for example, in numeracy work, or disseminating findings to other members of the school community. It is hoped that the data will be of interest to student as it is ‘theirs’.

We have a clear message from schools that they would like to receive data every two years to monitor the health behaviours of their students. The HBSC survey is only conducted every four years so we are now piloting an e-survey, which would mean data could be provided every two years. The plan is that this will be rolled out in a year’s time to the rest of the network.

Sharing knowledge and ideas is key to our network, and we are very keen to link with other school health research networks. We were very happy to host Chris Owen from the Schools Health and Wellbeing Research Network at UCL Partners , and learn more about how they plan to engage schools in research and researchers in schools. It was so interesting to share our experiences and to compare the differences in the educational context between Wales and England. We are looking forward to further opportunities for collaboration.

Overlooking Menai Straits at sunset

Next steps: Canada!

Steve Manske from SHAPES (the School Health Action, Planning and Evaluation System), based at the University of Waterloo, has been a valuable contributor to the School Health Research Network in Wales. He was also the star turn at our launch event and gave a seminar to staff and students at Cardiff University sharing key lessons from the work being done in Canada. Now it is our turn to make the trip to Canada, to update SHAPES staff on what we are doing and to learn from the staff and students at the University of Waterloo and Canadian schools. We are very keen to explore linking schools in SHAPES with those in our network, so watch this space!

About the author: Joan Roberts is the Manager of the School Health Research Network.

The School Health Research Network 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.

For more information on the network and our founding member schools, and to register interest in joining the network, see the new SHRN website: 

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