Has the extra in extracurricular become exclusive?
By | March 20, 2018

The value of extra-curricular activity is well rehearsed.

Sport, culture, arts, volunteering, adventure, Zumba, Lego – if you name it there is almost certainly a school somewhere offering a club, trip or other out-of-school experience in it.

And the evidence that these things make a difference on what we today are calling ‘life skills’ is well presented. The creation of social and cultural capital, the chance to make new connections and develop new experiences and the potential to augment the curriculum offer make the import of extra-curricular clear.


What happens though when the extra-curricular is actually addressing gaps in the curriculum.

One of the underpinning principles of Every Child Should is that those who need the skills and experiences of extra-curricular and enrichment activities are often those that have least access.

The Sutton Trust Extracurricular Inequality Report in 2014 and the Life Lessons report 2017, also from Sutton Trust, support this hypothesis.

"There are also substantial socio-economic gaps in access to extra-curricular activities, with pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds less likely to take up activities than their better off peers (46% compared to 66%), with just half of those receiving free school meals (FSM) taking part. There are also substantial gaps in provision, with schools with higher numbers of FSM pupils less likely to offer certain activities. Schools with the lowest proportion of FSM pupils are twice as likely to offer debating clubs as schools with the highest (70% compared to 35%)." - Life Lessons 2017

This school and geographic level variation is well evidenced in research reports on specific areas of extra-curricular activity. For example, the Learning Away/LKMco report The State of School Residentials 2017 shows that pupils in disadvantaged areas (where a large proportion are eligible for Free School Meals) have fewer opportunities to participate in residentials than their peers in more advantaged areas.

When extra-curricular becomes essential why do some pupils miss out?

So, if aspects of what every child should achieve and experience before they are 18 are increasingly moving from in school curricular delivery to enrichment, is this not another contribution to widening the attainment gap? When HMCI argues that schools should "embrace creative subjects" through extra activities such as plays, art clubs and orchestra what is the risk that this becomes another factor in excluding children with SEND and other disadvantage from a broad and balanced curriculum? This won’t be the first school to charge for after school GCSEs.

The blocks to pre and after school activity are many

For parents who juggle transport arrangements, particularly those who struggle already with funded SEND transport etc. For learners with ME, other health issues and who have to work hard on concentration, long days are painful. The actual direct costs of clubs are well rehearsed as a barrier but additional costs including having to pay for different transport, salary loss attached to picking up and leaving work at different times and for older pupils the choice between participation and the part time job that contributes to family income. Parental experiences of voluntary activity or their own cultural and social capital have a direct impact on the likelihood of families valuing trips to museums etc.

But don’t stop extracurricular provision

This isn’t an argument to stop the extra-curricular and enrichment activity. Quite the opposite. Clubs, trips and wider experiences offer things even a fully rounded curriculum cannot. The element of choice for students is important. Commitment, volunteering and persistence in non-mandatory activity is an important life skill. To develop different relationships with adults and extend social capital beyond the existing peers can be liberating and is part of extending social capital. To try lots of things to develop a passion. To develop a passion and to have the opportunity to master it. These are all benefits of the extracurricular.

So how to address the equity issue and make sure all benefit from the extra.

1. Tracking

This week’s #sltchat focused on extra-curricular activities and school leaders spoke on the importance of tracking enrichment and extra-curricular activity to make sure those who needed the most didn’t miss out. The import of tracking and monitoring (and investing) in enrichment was clear etc. What was also clear from the discussion was the value schools place on such work and the commitment of teachers to delivering it. How we can support those teachers is the subject of another blog.

2. Focusing funding

Funding programmes that focus resource on schools that might need to address access the most are particularly welcome. DEFRA 25 Year Strategy is for example focusing on connections to nature in schools in the most disadvantage areas. Each Opportunity Area has a Life Skills funding pot that can support extra-curricular and enrichment activity – Bradford’s is really useful example of the range of activity that schools can choose from.

3. Valuing youth work and their development frameworks

Also the role of voluntary and youth frameworks are important. NCS and DoE provide useful frames to encourage broad development of skills. And the role of the voluntary organisations like Scouts, Guides and London Youth, and what is left of local authority youth services, are also essential provision. All of these though need careful consideration of which young people are benefitting.

4. Supporting choice through funding

Approaches such as vouchers for young people parents to spend on extra-curricular choices – an extension of the Sutton Trust Proposal has potential to help level the playing field. As would flexibility with school transport options – for all children but particularly those with SEND.

5. School/charity collaboration that avoids super-serving some schools

Working with the charities that provide so much of this work so that voluntary funding that they receive is best deployed to support those who need it most, and not just those schools able to draw resources in, is an important development need for the voluntary sector and one that pre-occupies a lot of our day to day work.

6. Consider in school time provision

While the debate on the impact of EBACC and accountability on curriculum design is likely to run and run some schools are taking approaches to embed traditionally extra-curricular activities into the school day.

So extra-curricular matters. Clubs, enrichment, school trips matter. But they should be tools for the development of all children and young people particularly those that can benefit the most.

Continued monitoring to ensure equity of access though is at the core – both for individuals, at school level and across the system. Every Child Should committed to ensuring enrichment is an entitlement and extracurricular is equitable and we see this as part of a wider debate on access, inclusion and equity and we will be submitting evidence on this to both the Timpson and other government reviews. We want to hear from schools and organisations innovating in this field and our call for evidence will follow at the start of the Summer Term.