The Secondary Level Active School Flag Programme – Fiona McHale

The Active School Flag (ASF) is awarded to schools that strive to achieve a physically educated and physically active school community. The process aims to get more schools, more active, more often.

Active School Flag (ASF) at primary school level has been very successful with more than 600 primary schools in this country achieving Active School Flag status since its infancy in 2014.  Secondary schools have been working off the same guidelines as primary schools, however only just over 30 schools have achieved the flag. The Active School Flag development team of Karen Cotter and Carol O’Donnell under the Department of Education, over the past two years has redeveloped and subsequently refined the secondary school programme.

  • The ASF certificate programme (year 1) aims to improve physical activity opportunities in the school setting.
  • The ASF flag programme (year 2) focuses on making students more aware of the physical activity opportunities that exist in the wider community through collaboration between the school and local organisations i.e. sports clubs, activity clubs, local sports partnerships etc.

My research is focused on the feasibility of this programme where I am working with three pilot schools across the country. This whole school programme is anchored by an ASF co-ordinator and is primarily led by a class of TY students who become the ASF TY class. This class is timetabled for a double period each week and led by this ASF co-ordinator. A committee is then formed by this co-ordinator, four members of the ASF TY class who become “student leaders”, a member of management and two other members of staff from the wellbeing team in the school. Every class in the school is then represented by putting forward two members of their class through an application process.

Each school is provided with a training day at the start of the year and an ASF booklet to guide them in the process. Schools are also provided with a walkway pack consisting of signs to erect around the school grounds creating a walkway for both students and staff that can be used during break times and before and after school. Additionally, teachers are also encouraged to use this during class time by incorporating activity into subjects where possible. The booklet outlines a set of tasks that must be completed between September and May. The remaining tasks for completion include organisation of an awareness week, administering of a whole school questionnaire, completion of physical activity audits, organisation of a launch event, organisation of an Active Schools Week, development of an action plan and running an ongoing “did you know” campaign. The questionnaire is completed by all students in the school in September and a summary of these findings are sent to the school by the UL research team for analysis by the ASF TY team. From these findings, the TY class must come up with an action plan with three action areas to improve activity in the school. TYs also participate in a tug of war half day coaching workshop to provide them with the skills and knowledge to organise a tug of war event in the school.

My research involves conducting interviews and focus groups with all stakeholders in the process over the course of the two year programme. The whole school, both staff and students also complete process evaluation questionnaires up to three times in the year and fill out a logbook on weekly basis.  We explore how the programme is progressing for the schools, what is being implemented, what they have been able to do and finding out what the barriers and facilitators were for the completion of each task outlined. The research team are also interested in the efficacy of this programme. As part of the evaluation study, a sample class from each year group are monitored through physical activity levels and its social cognitive theories based correlates through physical health measures and surveys carried out. Year one (certificate level) has just been completed and each school had an accreditation visit to allow schools to show case all that they have undertaken and achieved in just one short year. I am looking forward to working with these schools again next year to follow them on their journey through year 2 (flag level) of the programme.

The University of Limerick Active School Flag research team: Prof. Catherine Woods, Dr Sarah Taylor, Dr Kwok Ng, Ms Fiona McHale

Fiona McHale is a postgraduate student in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences. She can be contacted at or twitter: @fionamchale

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