Head warns of ‘ticking time bomb’ in schools

The Telegraph, 31/12/14, HMC member, Sir Anthony Seldon has called for schools to give over part of their timetable to a 'daily stillness period' to prevent mental health issues among young people

Schools should ensure that children do sport three times a week and take part in character-building exercises to give them the "mental strength" to deal with modern life, according to a headmaster.

Sir Anthony Seldon claimed that too many of today's young people were growing up in a "moral vacuum" which was leaving them at increased risk of developing mental health issues such as depression and eating disorders.

His comments came amid growing calls from politicians and education experts for youngsters to be taught skills and abilities outside of the classroom that would help them in the future.

Sir Anthony, who is master of Wellington College, a private school in Crowthorne, Berkshire, said that young people's happiness and well-being should be a major priority for schools in the year ahead.

"We have a ticking time bomb of mental health issues amongst the young, and schools are still not doing enough," he warned.

"The obsession by government and Ofsted with exams results as the only validator of school success has prevented schools from doing more.

"Too many young people are growing up in a moral vacuum, with schools not imparting to them sufficient responsibility for their own physical and mental health, or for serving others.

"Many schools are abrogating their responsibilities when it comes to helping young people learn how to live."

He added: "Children are still far too prone to developing depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other mental health problems, while being far too dependent on social media and increasingly vulnerable to drugs and alcohol abuse.

"We need to help young people to engage with and serve other people to counter this self-obsession and glorification of material products.

"If we are to avert a crisis in years to come, schools must put a much greater emphasis on sport and regular exercise.

"Every child should have physical exercise at least three times a week.

"Schools should dedicate meaningful time to character-building exercises which can give young people the mental strength they need to cope with the stresses and challenges that come at them from every direction, much more so than in previous decades."

Earlier this year, Sir Anthony called for schools to give over part of their timetable to a "daily stillness period" to help youngsters learn how to concentrate and prevent mental health issues.

A number of schools, particularly those in the private sector, such as Wellington College, are introducing or looking at "mindfulness" classes, which usually focus on teaching students meditation and breathing techniques as well as how to pay attention to the present moment.

Earlier this month, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan suggested that learning traits such as perseverance and confidence were "equally important" to teenagers as gaining good exam results.

She has announced plans for a £3.5 million grant scheme to fund activities which help to instil character, resilience and grit.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has also previously said that building children's character could be more important than pure academic achievement.

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