I am pleased that HSJ recently chose to publish an article on the National Healthy Schools Programme, emphasising its importance as a good example of health and education collaboration at the local level (see 'A game for two players'.)

It was a highly useful andinformative piece, but unfortunately there seemed to be confusion over a couple of points, which I think your readers should be aware of.

First, the impression was given that the Healthy Schools Programme has moved away from being voluntary to something schools are now obliged to do. This is not the case. Schools still have a choice about whether to participate in the programme and their response has been very positive, with 91 per cent of schools already choosing to take part.

Second, there appears to be some degree of confusion regarding the programme’s statistics. Following the publication of the Choosing Health white paper in 2004, and in order to provide greater levels of improvement and consistency across schools, we took the ambitious decision to ‘raise the bar’ and make the programme’s assessment criteria more rigorous.

Previously, schools could select their own objectives for the health improvements they wished to make. Under the new standards, they must work to satisfy all criteria within the programme’s four core themes – healthy eating; physical activity; personal, social and health education; and emotional health and well-being.

I would therefore clarify that the 50 per cent target set for December 2006 referred to a cumulative total of those who attained Healthy School status before the 2005 change, as well as after - and was in fact met ahead of schedule. The June 2007 figure of 36 per cent, also quoted in the article, referred only to those schools satisfying the new criteria. This figure has now risen to 48 per cent.

As the article correctly mentions, with 55 per cent of schools expected to have met the new standard by the end of this year, we are well on track to deliver the programme’s aims and objectives of achieving tangible, long-term benefits for children and young people throughout the country, as well as maintaining the programme’s record of always meeting its targets.

To find out more about the National Healthy Schools Programme, click here

Thank you for an otherwise helpful and informative article.

Sam Mellor is head of the National Healthy Schools Programme at the Department of Health.