WHEN a school volunteer told headteacher Elaine Wyllie her pupils were unfit, she decided to do something about it.
The 60-year-old, then in charge of St Ninian’s Primary in Stirling, took her P6 class outside and asked them to jog around the school playing field .
Many of them struggled to make it all the way around. It was then that the Daily Mile was born.
“I spoke to the staff, and asked, if not us, who is going to do something about this?,” she said.
“So we decided that one class would go out and run round the field each day for a month and see what happened. It was transformational. By the summer the whole school was doing it.”
That was in 2012. Now the Daily Mile is official Stirling Council policy and local authorities from across the UK are following suit.
They’re out there running with their pals and that’s all that they needElaine Wyllie
More than 400 schools in Cheshire, Vale of Glamorgan and London are piloting the scheme.
It’s even catching on across the pond after American news channel CBS has broadcast a feature on its impact.
Elaine, from Burntisland, has retired from her headteaching role and is now working as an ambassador for the project, which is a simple, free and easy of boosting fitness and having fun at the same time.
“At a time of the teachers’ choosing, the children put their pencils down and they go out for their daily mile,” she explained.
“The weather is seen as a benefit not a barrier - if it’s a bit damp or cold, they put their jacket on, it it’s hot they take their sweatshirts off. They wear trainers ideally, but it doesn’t matter if they don’t. Pupils can walk if they want, and often if they have unsuitable footwear they break into a run anyway.
“There’s no kit barrier, and that’s very important. Kit can be a barrier, whether it’s pupils worrying about having the right ‘cool’ kit - we’re getting away from that.
“They go out and run and walk round a circuit in the play ground. They are encouraged to run but they can go at their own pace. The older ones like to take out a stop watch and time themselves but it is left up to the teachers and they have full ownership of it.”
There’s no doubting children need to get more active. In 2014, Scotland came bottom of 16 developed countries in two tables - physical activity and sedentary behaviour.
A 2015 study of 100,000 children across the UK found two-thirds lacked basic fitness.
Elaine, who admits she “wasn’t a particularly sporty person” before, is confident the Daily Mile can go a long way to helping kids get fit.
“All you need is somewhere to run - the playground is fine - and it’s completely free,” she said.
“The circuit is a fifth of a mile, so five laps is a mile. From primary one to three, 50 per cent of them do the five laps. A quarter do four, and a quarter do more than five. It’s 15 minutes, and in that time they average a mile. You couldn’t wait for the last one to trauchle in.
“It’s very social. We’ve sustained it for almost four years - you couldn’t if the children did not enjoy it.”
Elaine said parents and staff have been overwhelmingly supportive of the Daily Mile.
“The way we introduced it was accidentally by stealth - we didn’t announce, right we’re going to do this,” she said.
“It crept up on us. By the time we realised all the classes were involved, parents were already hugely behind it.
“They’re very grateful as we’re keeping their children fit. Many parents can be time-poor, or are maybe reluctant to let their kids out to play because of stranger danger. But they are noticing positive differences in their children and telling us about them. The changes are not just physical, it also improves mental health.”
As the Daily Mile was taken up by other Stirling schools, Elaine was invited to attend education conferences to explain how this simple idea can have such great benefits.
While she is delighted to see it being taken up across the UK, she hopes the simple formula will be stick to.
“You have to have something sustainable before you transfer it to other schools.
“The beauty of it is its simplicity. It requires no staff training and no tidy up afterwards. They just go out, as if they were going out to play, run, then come back in.
“Schools have a tendency to over complicate things - and I include myself in that. This is free, simple and there’s no need to add bells and whistles. I would be concerned if schools tried to do that - there’s a saying: ‘adopt, adapt abandon’.
“It’s ridiculously simple. It doesn’t need taken to the next level. They’re out there running with their pals and that’s all that they need.”