University of Jyväskylä

Dissertation: 24.11.2017 More movement in schools – special focus on social factors, lower secondary schools and girls (Haapala)

Start date: Nov 24, 2017 12:00 PM

End date: Nov 24, 2017 03:00 PM

Location: Seminaarinmäki, Old festival hall (S212)

Henna Haapala picture: Jouni Kallio
M.Sc. Henna Haapala defends her doctoral dissertation in Sport Pedagogy ”Finnish Schools on the Move: Students' physical activity and school-related social factors”. Opponent  Professor Catherine Woods (University of Limerick, Ireland) and custos Professor Mirja Hirvensalo (University of Jyväskylä). The doctoral dissertation is held in English.

Recent reports show that only one third of Finnish schoolchildren fulfil the daily physical activity recommendations and only one fifth of them like school a lot. The nationwide Finnish Schools on the Move programme aims at more active and pleasant school days, and it has been a part of the Finnish Government Programme since 2010. Each school in the programme implements its own actions to promote school-based physical activity. The doctoral dissertation on the programme brings up several factors for further attention and development, which are especially useful for schools at the start of their journey to promote physical activity. It requires time and the commitment of the whole school community to change the school culture and embrace the opportunities for physical activity more actively.

Special attention to three factors

Social factors should be considered when planning activities. The results of the doctoral study suggest that students’ participation in physical activities during recess is positively linked to peer relationships, relatedness to school and the school climate. However, simply promoting or adding physical activity during school days does not automatically make students feel more comfortable or content in school.

- Schools should pay more attention to social factors and contentment with school already when they plan to increase physical activity before, during and after school days. For example, a more active role of students, opportunities for physical activities that promote positive social interaction, and the participation and good example of school staff support more pleasant school days, Haapala describes.

Lower secondary school has its own reality. In this study, lower secondary school students (grades 7-9, age 13-15 years) were less physically active and more sedentary during school days than primary school students (grades 4-6, age 10-12 years). In Finland, the school culture changes when students shift from primary school to lower secondary school. Many things affect the well-being and physical activity behaviour of lower secondary school students, for example, social norms, developmental phase and the system of specialised subject teachers instead of the classroom teachers of primary schools.   

- The process takes time. There are no quick solutions to achieve more active and pleasant school days in lower secondary schools. However, change is possible in lower secondary schools as well, Haapala emphasises.
- It is worth to take the trouble for the changes in lower secondary schools, because that is where it is needed the most. It is more about the attitude and creativity than money.

More active school days for girls require special actions. According to the study, developing more active school recess times in lower secondary schools resulted in more physical activity mostly in boys. Girls were more physically active during recess times in those schools that offered separate recess activities for girls.  

­- It is a worldwide phenomenon that boys are more physically active during school days than girls. Girls have different wishes for physical activities during recess than boys, and schools should provide time and space to meet these wishes. When planning recess activities, schools should also pay attention to the needs and wishes of the students who are least active or in the need for special support, Haapala emphasises.  

Each school to promote physical activity with unique approaches

Henna Haapala investigated comprehensive schools during the pilot phase (2010–2012) of the Finnish Schools on the Move programme with a mixed methods approach. It included, for example, interviews of the principals and local contact persons of schools, surveys to the students, staff and local contact persons, and objective measurements of students’ physical activity with accelerometers.

The results of the doctoral dissertation indicated that each school has its own kind of culture and school-specific means to begin to change towards a more physically active culture.  

- There are two unique features to this programme. First, the programme is nationwide, and until now, altogether 83% of comprehensive schools in Finland have registered in the programme. Secondly, school autonomy is supported and trusted upon. This a very Finnish approach within the educational sector as well – schools and teachers are given the liberty and responsibility in their work. Each school has its individual way to be a school on the move, based on its needs and strengths. The programme provides support for schools through networks and funding opportunities and by disseminating best practices, Haapala clarifies.

More information:

Henna Haapala,, tel. +358 20 762 9514

Communications Manager Annaleena Aira,, tel. +358 20 762 9527

Communications Manager Liisa Harjula,, tel. +358 40 805 4403

The dissertation is published in the series LIKES Research Reports on Physical Activity and Health number 336, Jyväskylä 2017, ISSN 0357-2498, ISBN 987-951-790-443-8. It is available at the LIKES Research Centre, tel. +358 20 762 9500, ,


The school-based promotion of physical activity (PA) is a great opportunity to reach the majority of school-aged children. Aside from many physical health benefits, participation in physical activities can foster social well-being and interaction. The purpose of this study was to investigate changes in PA and school-related social factors, as well as their associations in school-aged children in schools which participated in the Finnish Schools on the Move programme and its pilot phase in 2010–2012. Furthermore, school-based actions for PA promotion and staff experiences in the pilot schools were investigated.

The data were collected as part of the follow-up of the national Finnish Schools on the Move programme, which aims to create more physically active and pleasant school days through PA. Survey data were collected in 2010–2012 at four measurement points over two academic years from a total of 1463 students in grades 4–9. In addition, a fifth follow-up measurement was conducted with 385 eighth-graders in 2013. Questionnaires included measures of habitual PA, PA during recess and school-related social factors. Furthermore, PA was measured objectively with ActiGraph accelerometers in a subsample of 319 students in grades 1–9. PA promotion processes at schools were investigated by means of diaries, interviews and online surveys with the local contact persons, principals and school staff.

Objectively measured school day moderate-to-vigorous-intensity PA increased and sedentary time decreased more in the programme primary schools compared to the reference school, although changes in total PA did not occur. In lower secondary schools, student participation in self-reported physical activities during recess increased in physically active play and ball games, mostly among male students. Self-reported PA during recess was positively associated with peer relationships at school, relatedness to school in primary school and school climate in primary-school females. However, school-related social factors in eighth-graders did not differ between the years 2011 and 2013. Organised recess activities, gender-specific physical activities and facilities, student recess activators, and equipment provision and sports facilities development were considered to have affected students’ PA positively in lower secondary schools. The project was highly visible in schools, but there was great variation in school staff participation in its promotion.

The results of this study showed positive changes in school day PA and participation in physical activities during recess. The promotion of PA and social well-being perspectives at school require further attention to the effective implementation of promotion actions, school staff involvement as well as female and lower secondary school students.

More information

Henna Haapala
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