SCOTLAND’S education and health ministers are calling on all primary schools to introduce a daily mile exercise programme to boost children’s health and fitness.

With the country having some of the worst obesity rates in Europe, Cabinet Secretary for Education Angela Constance and Health Secretary Shona Robison have vowed to write to every primary head teacher in the country urging them to launch a daily physical exercise scheme similar to that introduced in St Ninian’s in Stirling where children walk or run a mile a day.

The move comes just days after the school’s award-winning head teacher called on the Scottish Government to extend the scheme across the country.

For three and a half years, former head teacher Elaine Wyllie, 60, who retired last month, always made sure that all pupils at St Ninian’s primary run the daily mile around its grounds each day.

They do so at random times during the day, apparently happily, and despite the rise in childhood obesity, none of the children at the school are overweight.

The daily mile has done so much to improve the children’s fitness, behaviour and concentration in lessons that scores of nursery and primary schools across the UK have already followed suit, getting pupils to get up from their desks and take 15 minutes to walk or run round the school or local park.

Now the cabinet secretaries insist St Ninian’s pioneering scheme should be a model for all other schools.

Constance said: “We know physical activity improves the health and wellbeing of children and in turn, can improve their performance in the classroom.

“Initiatives like the daily mile are simple but effective and other schools around the country have already adopted the idea after seeing the success at St Ninian’s. That is why we are encouraging all schools to consider implementing the scheme or develop their own physical activity initiatives.

“We will also produce an online resource with Education Scotland to provide further information for schools on how they can implement the Daily Mile and other evidence-based approaches that can incorporate physical activity across the wider curriculum.”

In Stirling alone, 30 schools have already started their daily mile regime and similar schemes have been introduced in schools in London, Gateshead and Wales.

Robison hailed the daily mile a “fantastic initiative” with teachers and parents seeing a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of those children taking part.

She added: “Programmes such as these can also encourage children and their parents to pick up healthy habits from a young age.

“I’m really pleased to see so many Scottish schools are already taking part and I hope more schools will consider it, or look to develop their own physical activity approaches , when they receive further information about how to implement them in their school.”

Last week Wyllie, who was voted Teacher of the Year at the 2015 Pride of Britain Awards for her fitness programme, told Children in Scotland’s annual conference that the poor health of children and rising obesity rates had now become an “emergency”.

She believes the daily mile should be used by Holyrood as “one of the weapons” in the fight against obesity

Wyllie said: “There is an emergency in children’s health in Scotland, which must be addressed.

“We need new thinking on how to get our children active and engaged in physical activity – and schools and nurseries across the country hold the key.

“The introduction of the daily mile in schools has proven to have a number of benefits. With no costs associated for the families and conducted during the school day, it can help overcome issues around time and money which have been highlighted as barriers for some families.”

She said she used to get at least two emails a day from other schools and local authorities asking how they do it.

Wyllie added: “The thought of children across the country running every day because of something we’ve done is phenomenal.

“It’s a common sense approach to children’s fitness, which is free and easy.

“The most important thing is that the children really enjoy it, otherwise you couldn’t sustain it.

“They come back in bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked, how children used to look. It’s joyous to see.”

The school’s approach to children’s fitness and tackling childhood obesity has attracted national and international praise from many healthcare experts, and is now to be the focus of a study by experts at the University of Stirling.

The St Ninian’s mile scheme was originally developed there after a school volunteer realised that the children lacked some stamina.

Wyllie said: “A volunteer in the school said the children weren’t fit, and so we decided to test them.

“We got some of the children to run around the field, but they couldn’t — they were exhausted very, very quickly.

“So we then thought, we have this path around the field, could we actually run them around it a few times and get them fit?

“We did it with one class, and very shortly all the classes were doing it — it was that simple.”

Case Study: All schools should join in daily mile

MUM Sheonagh Mearns can vouch for the benefits of St Ninian Primary School’s daily mile programme and insists every child in Scotland should get the same chance as her daughter.

The 39-year-old speech therapist said five-year-old Isla “absolutely loves” running a mile every day with her classmates and it has really boosted her social skills, as well as her confidence.

Sheonagh, from Stirling, welcomed the Scottish Government’s bid to get similar exercise programmes up and running in all Scottish schools.

She said: “My daughter Isla really enjoys it, she does 2km park running as well at the weekends.

“The teachers decide when they are going to do the daily mile, it is not really timetabled. I think some teachers prefer to do it the same time every day, others do it when they feel the kids need a bit of a break or are losing concentration.

“They go out in any weather, maybe if it was dangerous and icy they wouldn’t do it, but the rain doesn’t put them off.

“The school has some children with disabilities and they still go out and do it, it is very inclusive.”

Sheonagh, who is a runner herself, said it was “amazing” that the school’s successful daily mile programme would be introduced across the country.

She said: “It is fantastic that the Scottish Government is taking it on board and encouraging other schools to do it.

“Our daughter enjoys school anyway, but the daily mile keeps the children motivated and it is also a chance for them to socialise.

“It gives Isla a good attitude to exercise. She will often say it keeps her healthy and fit and it is good for her. I think it is an all-round positive thing and it’s not just about fitness, it is also about emotional well-being.”

The National View: A brilliantly simple way to keep pupils fit and happy