Daily Mile boosts well-being of kids & teachers!

It is ironic that Elaine Wyllie’s Pride of Britain award came at the end of her teaching career. 

The 60-year-old has recently retired from her post as head teacher at St Ninians Primary School in Stirling. But she remains busy, spreading the word about her Daily Mile initiative, which won her the 2015 award.

What is the Daily Mile?Children running around school

The concept is simple – every child at head teacher Elaine’s primary school was encouraged to run outside, every day for 15 minutes. There’s no competition, no times to beat, and no exceptions. All of the children take part. 

“It’s a golden 15 minutes that has an impact on the rest of the children’s day, and the rest of their lives”, she says. “It’s sustainable, it’s cheap and children, staff and parents all love it.”

It is 4 years since Elaine asked a group of 11 year olds to run around the school field during a lesson, after hearing that many of them were exhausted by the warm up before their weekly PE lesson. They struggled to even finish a lap.
“When we came back inside, I asked them ‘do you think you’re fit?’ They said no. I asked ‘what would you like to do about it?’ And they decided they would run around the field for 15 minutes every day for a month to see if they could improve their fitness.”

In that month, any logistical issues had been ironed out. It was deemed too time consuming to get the children to change into sport’s kit, so that went out the window. It happened every day, come rain or shine (“We’ve broken through the weather barrier in Scotland”, she says. “The only exception is if it’s really icy or heavy rain.”). Participation has to be at 100% - children with additional needs all take part. Best of all, it doesn’t cost anything and no staff training is required. “Any school could do it,” she says. 

Within a few months, the whole school was participating and after a year, the nursery class joined in too. 

Impact on emotional, mental & physical well-being

The results have been impressive, and not just in the children’s fitness levels: “What we didn’t see coming were the other equally important benefits to their mental, emotional and social health and wellbeing… They are physically fit, more focused in the classroom, more confident and more resilient,” Elaine says.

The scheme has been endorsed by the Scottish Departments of Health and Education, and recommended for all primary schools across the country. There are more than 500 Scottish primary schools taking part and the initiative is spreading south of the border. 

“What it does is give children some semblance of what childhood used to be,” she explains. “Children need to be outside, playing happily with little adult supervision. Childhood today is dominated by manufactured toys, being indoors, and not mixing sufficiently with other children outside in the fresh air. But the need they have to play outside has never changed.”

Innovation has been a key part of Elaine’s career. In 2004 she was named Becta’s ICT Teacher of the Year; she was the first teacher to teach Harry Potter in class (or so she was told by JK Rowling when she visited the school in 1998); she used the film Titanic to teach a class on science and philosophy; and as an astronomy enthusiast, has taken numerous groups of pupils on observation nights. 

“My first love is engaging, exciting, child pleasing content,” she says. “Children love learning, all of them. It’s just about finding the key. When children are interested, it’s engaging for them. Being a teacher has been a privilege.”

One of the high points of her career, she admits, was receiving the results of a joy at work survey in March 2015. All of the teachers at St Ninians said they liked coming to school. 

“If staff don’t like coming to school, how can they teach,” she asks. “I abhorred the over the top written planning and over assessing of children which exhausts teachers. So at St Ninians, we streamlined our approach and focused on professional dialogue, shared planning and meaningful and manageable assessment. This left teachers with the energy which they needed to be able to teach their classes.”

The Daily Mile has also had a positive impact on staff – and not just because of the improved attitudes of the children when they come back to class. Classroom assistants sometimes supervise the Daily Mile, and many teachers take part in the Daily Mile with the children. 

“The teachers’ key responsibility is to make it work for the children,” she says. “But the Daily Mile really makes a difference to staff too. They return to the classroom feeling fit, well and energised.”

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