Active Future Programme: Using Physical Activity to Promote Education amongst Adolescents At Risk of Early School Leaving


At the beginning of the year I was lucky enough to be selected as a participant for the Youth on The MOVE programme – a platform for  30 young minds across Europe to explore ways of implementing grass-root campaigns and initiatives for promoting health and wellbeing. This comprehensive programme consisted of a 5 month online training course in physical activity promotion and a 5 days of offline training  in Barcelona.  The International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA) recognised and identified the need for more training for youth in the field of sport and events, and designed the Youth on the MOVE (YOTM) project to help meet this need. Having the opportunity to be part of this programme and share a room with so many great young minds in Barcelona was one of the best experiences of my life.The overall aim of this project was for participants to plan physical activity events in their respective countries and get their nation moving. I came back to  Ireland inspired, motivated and ready to make a change, but my question was – who do I target and what could have the widest impact?



As we know physical inactivity is a major problem of growing concern both globally and nationally (Ireland), specifically amongst the adolescent population.The rise in inactivity can be partially attributed to changes in our society. Advancements in technology has reduced the physical efforts in many of our daily tasks  and increased our time spent sitting. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that fourth-fifths of European adolescents are insufficiently active. Indeed in Ireland, it is reported that only 19% of primary and 12% of post-primary children meet the recommended daily physical activity levels – that is moderate to vigorous activity for at least 60 minutes every day. Failure to meet these requirements can have serious health consequences including increased risk of developing cancer, type II diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndrome (The Economic Cost of Physical Inactivity in Europe, 2015).  This report also found that those from lower socioeconomic groupings are less likely to engage in physical activity in comparison to their more affluent counterparts. Indeed, the CSPPA report in Ireland noted that lower socioeconomic groups were less likely to take part in after school activity, but there was no difference whilst in the school setting (CSPAA, 2010).

”…benefits of playing sports…at secondary school found students who played more sports in their final school years were more likely to continue a formal education after leaving school” (ERSI, 2005)

Physical activity not only benefits physical health but also mental, social and emotional health. Increasing your physical activity levels is associated with reductions in depression, anxiety, and emotional disturbances while providing opportunities to meet new people and increase social supports. Additionally,  a report on school children and participation in sport found that ;  ”…at secondary school…students who played more sports in their final school years were more likely to continue a formal education after leaving school” suggesting a possible link between physical activity and educational progression (ERSI, 2005). Using physical activity as a hook or a carrot to engage people in programmes with an alternative focus has also been found to be very effective (Young Men and Suicide Report, 2012). I discovered the area in which I was working had the highest school drop-out rate in the country for both school cycles compared to the national average. Also, Ireland has the fourth highest suicide rate amongst young people aged 15-24 in the EU and sadly there has been an increase in suicides amongst this age group in the local community.

Considering this, I set about  designing a programme aimed at young adolescents at risk of early school leaving and exploring how physical activity might play a role in supporting this cohort. A partnership was made with Michael Byrne from the Tullow School Completion Programme and we designed the Active Future Programme.

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Members of Tullow Secondary School, Tullow School Completion Programme and I.T. Carlow.

The Active Future Programme 


  • To promote and encourage physical activity and healthy living amongst  adolescents and those at risk of early school leaving.
  • To encourage progression to third level education amongst this cohort.


  • To explore and challenge attitudes and stereotypes with regard to third level education, physical fitness, body image and mental health.
  • To identify barriers that compound participants’ will for early school leaving and provide them personal motivation and problem solving training.
  • To introduce participants to a third level educational environment working closely with third level students to establish appropriate relationships and mentoring.

The programme will consist of 20 participants as identified by the School Completion Programme on the campus of the Institute of Technology Carlow. It  has been  integrated  into the Sport Science year 3 curriculum where the Sport Science students will be working closely with the adolescents, delivering  inputs, mentoring and providing support for the duration of the project.Mentor training will be provided to all Sport Science students prior to commencement of the programme. The programme will run for an 8 week period and consist of the following;

2pm: Healthy Meal

Students will arrive on campus at be given a healthy meal each week.

2.30pm: Physical Health Input

This short lecture style input will be delivered by Sport Science students  involving different components of physical health e.g.the food pyramid, hydration, important of sleep.

On Week 7, participants  will be given a tour of the college facilities and have the option to sit in on lectures of their choice and sample college courses they might be interested in. Following this, week 8 will see participants  get the opportunity to meet representatives from  the courses they are interested in and ask questions on what that course might be like to study.

2.45pm: Physical Activity Input 

Sports Science students will deliver a different physical activity class each week. These classes seek to promote ways to be physically active outside of structured sports (i.e. soccer, rugby, volleyball). Some of the inputs include zumba, using a gym correctly, fun orientated games.

3.25pm: Mental Health Input 

Michael Byrne will deliver inputs aimed to promote positive mental health and wellbeing amongst the participants. Some of the inputs include coping strategies, understanding your behaviours and problem solving techniques.

3.35pm Future Me Plan

Participants will write down one thing they will change about their health based on what they learned that day. They will then report back to the group the following week on how the proposed changes went. By the end of the 8 weeks participants will have developed their Future Me Plan on how to change their health.

Proposed Outcomes:

On completion, participants will be able to;

  1. Evaluate their attitudes and stereotypes with regard to third level education, fitness and self-image.
  2. Identify the barriers that would prevent them from attending third level education.
  3. Apply problem solving and personal motivation skills training to design a personal action plan (Future Me Plan).
  4. Design a personal fitness plan using the information provided.
  5. Assess behaviours, activities and food and determine if they are unhealthy or unhelpful.
  6. List university courses they might be interested in.


The programme will be evaluated using qualitative and quantitative methodologies.  A final year Sports Science student will complete and evaluation report as part of their final year dissertation. Focus groups will be help pre- and post-intervention to explore participants barriers to physical activity/education, how they conceptualise health, and how their views may have changed following the programme. A needs and assets assessment questionnaire  will be completed each week by participants to track their physical and mental health, perceptions of education and sense of belonging etc.

The Active Future Programme has been designed by and run in association with I.T. Carlow (Ireland), Tullow School Completion Programme and Tullow Secondary School. The project is supported by Youth on the MOVE and  begins the 7th of October. This blog will be updated each week to follow the progress of the programme! If would like more information on the programme or have any questions in general you can contact me by email – or