Parents ‘not wholly to blame for child weight gain’

Rikama Education 21st November 2018

Pointing the finger of blame at parents for children’s weight gain may be unfair, research suggests.

It has been thought that parents’ feeding patterns are a major factor in whether a child is under or overweight.

But a study suggests parents adapt their feeding styles in line with a child’s natural weight and size, which is largely genetically influenced.

The study was carried out by researchers at King’s College London and University College London (UCL).

The research says that, since the onset of the childhood obesity crisis at the turn of the century, the spotlight has focused on environmental factors for the problem – in the hope of finding solutions.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, parental behaviours have received a great deal of attention,” it says.

“Parents are widely considered to be the ‘gatekeepers’ to their children’s food, and powerful shapers of their developing eating behaviour.”

Parental feeding styles

The study notes that two types of parental feeding styles, in particular, play a role in how parents regulate children’s eating habits:

  • restriction of food, which is thought to lead to weight gain because children overeat when the restriction is not there (the “forbidden fruit” effect)
  • pressure to eat, which is thought to make children with low appetites anxious, and compromise weight gain

But rather than dictate children’s habits, the research suggests parents are “responding to their child’s emerging characteristics, not simply causing them”.

The researchers assessed data, from the Twins Early Development Study, of 4,500 sets of twins born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996.

They calculated a genetic score that sets out the likelihood of these individuals to have a higher or lower body mass index (BMI).

They then matched this score against parents’ feeding reports, setting out whether they used restriction or pressure.

The study found those children with a higher genetic BMI score had higher reported rates of parental restriction and those with lower BMIs had higher rates of pressuring, suggesting parents were adjusting their strategies for each child.

Even within families where non-identical twins differed in their genetic predisposition, parents were more restrictive with the twin who had a tendency to be of a higher weight and were more pressuring of the twin who tended to weigh less.

What do the results show?

Lead author, Saskia Selzam, from King’s College London, says: “Our findings suggest that parents develop their feeding practices in response to their child’s natural tendency towards a higher or lower weight.

“The way a parent feeds their child may also influence their child’s weight to some extent, but our results challenge the prevailing view that parental behaviour is the major influence on childhood weight.”

kids eating Image copyright Getty Images

Senior author, Dr Clare Llewellyn from UCL, adds: “These results show that parents are not the ‘full story’ when it comes to a child’s weight, and blaming parents for being too controlling about feeding may be unfair.

“But it is unclear whether these natural ‘go to’ strategies are helpful, harmful, or of no consequence to a child’s weight in the long run.”

Do parents have any impact on weight?

Ms Selzam says parents clearly have an impact, but not only in establishing learnt eating behaviours.

“It doesn’t mean that feeding strategies aren’t important.

“But the main point is how parents influence their children’s BMI genetically.

“A lot of studies suggest it must be the parents that cause the weight gain, but we are showing that it’s more complex than that.”

The researchers say further study is needed to identify which feeding strategies are acceptable and how they work.

The study is published in PLOS Genetics.

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Help for trauma in childhood ‘fragmented’

Rikama Education 14th November 2018

girl crying 

Early intervention to reduce the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as abuse or neglect is “fragmented and variable” across England, MPs warn.

The Science and Technology Committee says more help in the formative years can help stave off mental health problems in later life.

The committee is urging the government to draw up a new national strategy for early intervention approaches.

It says early intervention can save the government money in the long term.

What does the committee’s report say?

The report says: “There is now a body of evidence that clearly demonstrates a correlation between adversity suffered during childhood and an increased prevalence of health and social problems in later life.”

It adds that while there is evidence of good practice in some local authorities in England, there is no “clear, overarching national strategy”.

“This has led to a fragmented and highly variable approach to early intervention across England, with evidence of a significant gap between what the latest evidence suggests constitutes best practice and what is actually delivered by many authorities.

“Where local authorities are not providing early intervention based on the best available evidence, vulnerable children are being failed.”

What do the MPs want?

The MPs are calling for more support for local councils to plan and deliver effective early intervention.

They also want to see better collection of data to help assess the effectiveness of intervention schemes.

But the report is clear that stepping in to help children is worthwhile, both for the children and the public purse.

“When delivered effectively, there is strong evidence that early intervention can dramatically improve people’s lives and reduce long-term costs to the government,” it says.

What sorts of things are considered to be ACEs?

The report says there is no universally agreed definition of what an ACE is, but that the following issues are typical:

  • verbal abuse
  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • physical neglect
  • emotional neglect
  • parental separation
  • household mental illness
  • household domestic violence
  • household alcohol abuse
  • household drug abuse
  • incarceration of a household member

What does the committee chairman say?

Norman Lamb MP says: “Adversity in childhood appears to be the biggest single risk factor in the emergence of mental ill health in childhood and teenage years and beyond.

“If we are to make any impact on the high prevalence of mental ill health in childhood, we have to transform how we address the causes.

sad boy Image copyright Getty Images

“Early intervention offers young people who have suffered adversity in their childhood an opportunity to avoid the long-term problems associated with such experiences.

“When delivered effectively, there is strong evidence that early intervention can dramatically improve people’s lives, whilst also reducing long-term costs to the government.”

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‘The education system’s blind spot’ – outstanding schools

Rikama Education 31st October 2018

England’s top rated schools are the “blind spot” in the education system and that needs to change, the chief inspector of schools has said.

Amanda Spielman said the move, in 2011, to exempt outstanding schools from routine inspections meant some had not been inspected for over a decade.

This was unpopular with parents and teachers and meant changes in school quality and safety could be missed.

The government said outstanding schools were held to account in other ways.

Poor safeguarding

Ms Spielman said: “85% of teachers agree that exemption should not be indefinite.

“More importantly, it leaves us with real blind spots as to the quality of education and safeguarding in these schools.”

She expressed concern that these schools lacked oversight and that issues such as narrowing of the curriculum, gaming the system and poor safeguarding practices may be being overlooked.

Ms Spielman said: “The outstanding grade should be a symbol that a school is a beacon of excellence.

‘Major risks’

“If we are to maintain its reputation, the exemption from inspection for outstanding schools must be removed and Ofsted fully resourced to inspect those schools.”

Ms Spielman made the comments in a letter to the Commons Education Committee, setting out the “major risks to the quality of education and school effectiveness”.

It is not the first time that Ofsted has said that these top-rated schools “lack oversight”.

ClassroomImage copyright Getty Images

Ofsted’s director of corporate strategy, Luke Tryl, had suggested that some outstanding schools may no longer merit the prestigious label upon which many parents base their school applications.

School funding

A spokesman for the Department for Education said:

  • yearly performance data provided parents with real transparency
  • Ofsted was still required to risk assess outstanding schools and inspect if necessary in response to parental concerns

The DfE exempted outstanding schools from re-inspection on the grounds that resources should be focused on schools that were struggling.

A school judged good at its most recent inspection would normally receive a one-day short inspection about every four years.

In the letter to the committee, Ms Spielman also says there is no concrete evidence to suggest school standards have been affected by the squeeze in school funding.

‘Difficult choices’

The Institute for Fiscal Studies identified an 8% drop in funding in real terms between 2000-10 and 2017-18.

But Ms Spielman said she could not comment without “evidence rooted in inspection findings”.

To do so would “undermine Ofsted’s credibility”, she said.

But she acknowledged that funding was a “major topic of concern in the sector”.

“With increased employment costs and other pressures, schools are having to make difficult choices after years of growth,” she said.

“Currently, however, my inspectors are not seeing an impact on education standards – 86% of schools are good or outstanding and there is no recent evidence of falling levels of attainment at Key Stages 2 or 4.”

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Education Budget – October 2018

Rikama Education 29th October 2018

Education Budget October 2018

At Rikama Education, the consensus of the Budget 2018 for education was undesirable at best. We were all expecting a much higher amount of funding than £400million – will £10,000 per primary school and £50,000 per secondary school really make a difference?

Today marked the Budget 2018, Philip Hammond’s third Budget as chancellor. Many areas were discussed, from the state of the economy, a very brief mention of Brexit, to the funding of public services; one of these was funding to the countries’ education sector.

The government are committing to a one-off payment of £400million to help schools buy ‘the little extras they need.’ I am not sure if the government are aware, but on the 28th September, headteachers marched onto Downing street protesting the funding cuts that have been made; I’m not sure how £400million could help at all? Headteachers have been begging parents for donations just to cover the costs of textbooks and stationery, more money is needed. Rikama Education donated several Kindle Fires to a local school due to budgetary constraints they were having.

Angela Rayner has tweeted that ‘Schools have been cut by over £2bn since 2015 – today they get less than a fifth back and he tells them to be grateful!’ What does Philip Hammond thinks is more important? Apparently contributing some £1billion funding for a nuclear submarine programme.

Surely the education sector funding needs to be looked at? How can we get Philip Hammond and the current government to pay attention?

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How the Co-op tackled a school with terrible truancy

Rikama Education 17th October 2018

How does a school go from having one of the worst truancy records in the country to having one of the best attendance records?

“No nonsense and no excuses.”

That’s the message that you keep hearing from staff at Co-op Academy Manchester.

There is also a very direct approach from the school’s attendance team.

Even if a parent rings to say their child is poorly, there could still be a knock on the door to check out the story.

Jenny Robey, the school’s attendance manager, says she might be halfway up the stairs of a house where a child is supposedly off sick when the parent will admit that “she’s really in Tenerife”.

Not there… not learning

The school, in Blackley, Manchester, used to send out a minibus to bring back all those caught dodging school.

The principal, Steve Brice, says a radical improvement on attendance was a key part of turning around the school.

Image captionThere are 13 schools run by the Co-op group, mostly based in the north of England

“If children are not in the building, they’re not learning,” he says. Any other improvements in lessons would be wasted if pupils were not there to benefit.

Mr Brice says it has been important to send an unambiguous message that truancy is not tolerated – and to make clear that the school would not shy away from tough action, including fines and prosecutions for parents.

He says schools in disadvantaged areas are not helping anyone if they lower standards.

“It might seem tough not to accept excuses,” says the principal.

“There might be more barriers – but that’s even more of a reason to work really hard.

“It would be a complete disservice to children and their families to say ‘they can’t do it because..’.”

New identity

It’s an approach that has seen the school going from near the bottom in school attendance among England’s secondary schools to a record that puts them near the top.

A decade ago, the school (in its previous identity) had about one in five pupils who were persistently absent. Now it’s in the top 1% for attendance.

Image captionThe school in Manchester has a professional-standard theatre

But the first thing a visitor might notice arriving at the school is the Co-op logo on the wall and on the badge on school blazers.

The logo is immediately familiar from the high street shops – but the Co-op also runs 13 schools, with a particular focus on improving schools in less affluent parts of the north of England.

When the Co-op took over the Manchester school in 2010 it gave it a new name, new buildings and a new leadership – and with that a new culture.

There was a much stricter behaviour code, rules on uniform were enforced and there was a push for a greater sense of calm.

There was also a £24m rebuild, followed by a further £18m extension, including a professional-standard theatre that can be used by the community as well as the school.

It’s attracted more pupils – with numbers at the school more than doubling since the relaunch.

Social reformers

The Co-op also introduced its own ethos.

It’s almost as if the Co-op movement’s history of social reform, drawn from its 19th Century founders, has been used as a form of faith or belief.

The school’s houses – called “families” – are named after people from the movement’s past and there are visible messages about fairness, respect and community.

Image captionThe Co-op says its schools use the idea of co-operation as a shared ethos

But these radical, progressive roots are expressed in very traditional ways.

The vice principal, Mel McMorrow, talks about good manners and making sure pupils wear the right kind of shoes and tuck in their shirts.

She had worked in the school’s previous incarnation and said: “I wouldn’t say it was out of control, but there was very little respect.”

The culture shift, she says, meant that pupils now wanted to be in school.

There has been a big push on improving the teaching – and a policy of not using supply teachers, and instead having their own pool of staff to provide cover.

‘Straight talking’

Mr Brice talks about the need for “robustness” in setting standards.

While the Co-op might be associated with progressive politics, he says the school also draws upon values of “straight talking” and “self-responsibility and self-help”.

Image captionThe school has had new buildings and pupil numbers have more than doubled

Pupils at the school might have parents who had a negative experience in their own education – and he says there is a need to tackle such “inter-generational” lack of engagement with school.

Ms Robey says that attendance problems can be the starting point for other underlying family difficulties.

Parents might say the child is “stressed” or “anxious”, but it might turn out to be the parent who has the problem and might need help.

Frank Norris, the chief executive of the Co-op’s academy trust, says the group wants to expand further in schools in the north of England.

He says the aim is not only to raise educational achievement, but to use schools to support regeneration in the wider community.

For example in the Co-op Academy Manchester, there is a mini-business centre on the school campus where local entrepreneurs and start-ups can work.

Mr Norris says the schools are linked by the co-operative ethos, but in a way that connects with young people.

Rather than talking about “solidarity”, he says the schools might talk about succeeding together.

“It’s about respecting people – and those values are still relevant today.”

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