20 April, 2015 - Address by Jan O’Sullivan TD, Minister for Education and Skills at the Launch of Active School Week

It is my pleasure to be here today in Our Lady’s Abbey GNs, Adare. This is the 9th year that your school has organised an Active School Week programme therefore Our Lady’s Abbey GNS is the ideal place to launch Active School Week (2015).

This is a hugely important initiative and one that I’m very happy to support.  As a minister, my responsibilities take me the length and breadth of the country and I see remarkable initiatives happening in schools throughout Ireland.  One of the best initiatives I have noticed over the last number of years in particular is the growing number of schools which are flying Active School Flags.  This is to be welcomed and strongly supported. 

I want to encourage every school in the country to run an Active School Week as part of their annual school calendar. It is a great opportunity for the whole school community to come together to enjoy physical activity. It is also a great opportunity for schools to introduce new ways of being active. I know that every year Our Lady’s Abbey introduces something new and interesting to the Active School Week programme. Last year I understand you all tried out Latin dance. It is an exciting prospect to participate and try out new forms of sport and physical activity as you never know you might even find that after the Active School Week you could develop a lifelong interest in this activity.

The emphasis of the Active School Week initiative is always on fun and inclusive physical activity. Pupils should be active for at least 60 minutes a day but this doesn’t have to be continuous.  It can be 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there.  The challenge is for schools to find ways of energising the school day. I know that your school has been running very successful yard leagues for the past 10 years and I look forward to seeing them in operation shortly. I am very impressed by the fact that senior pupils are responsible for setting up the equipment and for organising and refereeing the events and would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work and enthusiasm of Ms Patricia Lavin for coordinating this activity throughout the year. 

We have already heard from the pupils about the positive aspects of this initiative and the many other ways that the Our Lady’s Abbey promotes physical activity throughout the school year. I am confident that the pupils here are being provided with quality physical activity experiences which will hopefully form the foundation of activity for life.

There is no doubt that there is a significant challenge facing Irish society at the moment.  We can’t escape from the fact that Irish people, including Irish children, are reported as not taking sufficient exercise and not eating the right foods. It is not the function of schools to solve society’s problems but they can do their piece to address this issue. Active School Week is one concrete way in which schools can keep the issue on the agenda. Engaging with the Active School Flag process is another way and I would all schools to work towards achieving this. . 

Schools need to be supported in all of this.  It can’t just happen because we’d like it to happen.  The Active School Flag website contains a lot of really good ideas that schools can easily implement.  I think the idea of schools sharing the outcomes of their work is a really good idea and I also like the fact that schools are using the available technology to do so.  For example, one of the ideas on the website is ‘Active Travel.’  The beauty of this is that it reminds students about the importance of active travel to and from school.  However, what is really good about it is the fact that it’s not just the students who are expected to participate; every single person including their families, the principal, the teachers, the secretary, caretaker and SNAs can take part.  Just this one simple idea outlines the potential benefit of the Active School Week for children and for the community in which they live.     

I’d also like to refer to some of the recent developments relating to the Active School Flag.  Healthy Ireland are now endorsing and sponsoring some elements of the Active School Flag initiative.  Healthy Ireland is a framework for action to improve the health and wellbeing of the people of Ireland.  The participation of Healthy Ireland in the initiative will allow us to take another step in the right direction.  My Department looks forward to collaborating with Healthy Ireland on this initiative for many years to come.  The more co-ordinated the approach, the better and it is for that reason, I wish the joint work well.  This is a very concrete example of the State working more effectively towards an identified goal.  We want more schools, more active, more often. 

One of the main aims of Active School Week this year is to make children, young people and their families more aware of the physical activity opportunities that are available in their own communities. I would like to thank the Federation of Sport and many of the national governing bodies of sport for lending their support this year and for making their coaches, resources and facilities available to schools for their Active School Week programmes. I would also like to pay a special thanks to Ireland Active and the participating leisure centres that, for a second year, are offering free swim passes to schools and, for this year, extending out their offer this year to include complimentary class passes and use of their facilities to local schools running Active school Week programmes.

It’s important too that we note the contribution of some of the people who have been responsible for bringing the Active School Flag programme to where it is today.  The steering committee, working out of the Mayo Education Centre, have done great work in developing the programme, as have individual members of the staff in Mayo – particularly Teresa  Murray.  There’s no doubt too that the energy, enthusiasm and drive that Karen Cotter, the co-ordinator of the programme, has brought to the work has been responsible for its significant growth.

I would also like to pay a special tribute to Our Lady’s Abbey GNS here in Adare who was one of the first schools in the country ever to receive an Active School Flag back in 2009 and who recently became the first school in the county to receive their third Active School Flag. Well done. This is a unique achievement and is a glowing testimony to all the hard work of the Principal Mary Lavin, the Active School Flag coordinator Patricia Lavin, pupils, parents, staff members and Board of Management. 

In launching the Active School Week I would encourage every school across the country to get more active. Active School Week is a great way to start and the feedback that I have received from schools is overwhelmingly positive. The Active School Flag process provides a great template for schools to reflect and to make improvements to enhance the quality of the Physical Education programme that they provide and of finding ways to energise the school day and the school year. I believe that both the Active School Week and the Active School Flag initiatives have a central role to play in promoting lifelong physical activity for our young people.

I am also delighted to have been invited here today to present the Digital School of Distinction Award to Our Lady’s Abbey School.  I would like especially to thank the Principal Ms Mary Lavin, ICT co-ordinator Ms Trisha Lavin and all who those involved in the achievement of this award, as I know it has involved an enormous amount of hard work by many people amongst us this morning.

We are all aware of the impact ICT can have on teaching and learning. The integrated use of technology in education has the potential to bring classrooms to life.  It also provides teachers with more up to date, exciting and relevant ways of presenting and engaging with the curriculum.  The use of ICT in education provides students with the skills needed for further levels of education and work.

Following on from the success of its predecessor initiative ‘The Digital Schools Award’ The Digital School of Distinction Award is an initiative which recognises excellence in a schools approach to the integration of ICT in learning and teaching. This award aims to build on the excellent progress already made by schools in ICT integration and to encourage them to strive for further progression and improvement.

The award scheme is successful because of schools like Our Lady’s Abbey School.  Your school performed very well having more than met the requirements for Digital Schools of Distinction Status and achieved the award on the 6th November 2014

The validators report notes a great spirit of collaboration and cooperation among the staff to maximise the effectiveness of ICT usage in the school. The creative use of many different resources was observed.  The report praises the enthusiasm and innovation of staff and pupils regarding the use of ICT and the willingness of staff to develop their skills in ICT.

Your school has embraced ICT and integrated it into all aspects of school-life.  MS Word, PowerPoint, Photo Story, as well as Publisher and Scratch are well used throughout the school.  The Validator observed the use of a number of interesting applications including web resources.

I would like to acknowledge the role of the pupils in achieving this status.  Your commitment to learning and embracing technology has played a role in achieving this award. Each one of you has helped your school to win this award, so well done to you all.

To conclude I would like to thank you once again for inviting me to visit you today and I wish you continued success in all future endeavours.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.