Extra funding to extend the school day and offer more extra-curricular activities could boost both attendance and outcomes, according to a new report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI).

In the study, which was funded by the Law Family Educational Trust, the EPI used longitudinal data to consider which student characteristics were most strongly associated with take-up of sports clubs and clubs for hobbies, arts or music when young people were aged 13 to 15, in 2013 and 2014. It then examined whether take-up of these activities was associated with a range of positive outcomes eight years later in 2021, when the young people were aged 21 to 22.

In terms of participation, students from independent schools were much more likely to attend sports clubs (91 per cent of students), and clubs for hobbies, arts and music (86 per cent) than students from academy converters (71 and 61 per cent respectively), sponsored academies/free schools (69 and 57 per cent), local authority maintained schools (67 and 52 per cent), and special schools (47 and 37 per cent). However, when comparing otherwise similar students, most of the differences between school types were no longer statistically significant - though even controlling for other factors students in local authority schools were less likely to attend clubs for hobbies, arts and music than students in academies. The report does note that many more schools have become academies since this research began. Across all settings the researchers found ‘vulnerable groups’, including those eligible for free school meals, with special educational needs and disabilities, low prior attainment or poorer health, were less likely to attend extra-curricular clubs and activities.  

The researchers then found a ‘positive association’ between attending sports clubs in secondary school and being in employment or education aged 21/22. Pupils who attended clubs for hobbies, arts and music were more likely to progress to higher education, but tended to have poorer self-reported health in their early twenties even compared to those who attended no clubs. Meanwhile pupils who attended both sports clubs and clubs for hobbies, arts and music were more likely to be participating in sporting activities at 21/22. The EPI note that although these associations between club participation and outcomes persist after controlling for a wide range of student characteristics, they cannot be sure that participation caused the difference in outcomes.

The EPI argue that the study demonstrates a range of potential benefits to extra-curricular provision, but that differences in access mean these benefits are ‘bypassing those who have the most to gain’. They call for the government to support schools to offer an extended school day, including through additional funding weighted towards schools with more disadvantaged intakes. They suggest that the extended day should include enrichment activities such as sports, hobbies, music and art alongside academic activities. They argue that as well as spreading opportunities for enrichment more evenly, a well-designed extended school day also has the potential to contribute towards improving attendance levels. A further recommendation is for the government to introduce a set of benchmarks for extracurricular activities, similar to the Gatsby benchmarks that are used to support careers information, advice and guidance.

David Robinson, director for post-16 and skills at the EPI and author of the report, said: ‘Our research clearly shows that not all students have equal access to extracurricular activities and the range of long-term benefits that may result from participation. With good reasons to think that these gaps in participation may have worsened for more recent cohorts, with the cost of living rising for families and school absence rates increasing in the wake of the pandemic, policymakers must act to ensure that the most vulnerable students are not missing out.’

A DfE spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to ensuring all young people have access to high quality extra-curricular opportunities, including disadvantaged pupils, with schools able to use pupil premium and recovery premium to fund enrichment activities.’

Full report: http://tinyurl.com/ycrmxjy8

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