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A qualitative study of health promotion in academy schools in England

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Jessiman, Patricia E.  ORCID logo
Campbell, Rona 
Jago, Russ 
Van Sluijs, Esther M. F. 
Newbury-Birch, Dorothy 


Abstract: Background: Schools are an important setting for health promotion. In England, around one third of publicly funded schools have become independent of local authorities since 2000 and are now academies, run by an academy trust. The aim of this research was to examine attitudes towards health promotion held by academy trust leaders and senior staff. The research questions were: 1. How do academy trusts in England perceive their role in health promotion amongst students? 2. How are decisions around health promotion made in academy trusts? 3. What factors inhibit and encourage health promotion in academy schools? 4. How might public health academics and practitioners best engage with academy schools to facilitate health promotion activity and research? Methods: Qualitative study utilising semi-structured interviews. Twenty five academy and school leaders were purposively sampled to achieve variation in trust size and type. In addition, five respondents were recruited from public and third-sector agencies seeking to work with or influence academy trusts around health promotion. Framework analysis was used to determine emergent themes and identify relationships between themes and respondent type. Early findings were triangulated at a stakeholder event with 40 delegates from academia, local authority public health teams, and third sector organisations. Results: There is wide variation amongst senior academy and trust leaders in how they perceive the role of academies in promoting health and wellbeing amongst students. There is also variability in whether academy trusts responsible for more than one school adopt a centralised strategy to health promotion or allow individual schools autonomy. This was dependent on the trust leaders’ attitude and interest in health promotion rather than any perceived external accountability. Identified barriers to health promotion include financial constraints, a narrow focus on educational outcomes and school performance, and limited understanding about effective health interventions. Conclusion: In the current absence of national policy or guidance around health promotion in schools, health has variable status in academies in England. There is a need to better engage all academy trusts in health promotion and support them to implement a strategic approach to health promotion.



Research Article, Health behavior, health promotion and society, Health, Education, School, Children, Adolescence, Qualitative

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BMC Public Health

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BioMed Central