Extracurricular activities are those that provide additional educational opportunities outside of the regular curriculum. These approaches aim to increase student engagement in school, which may lead to wider skills development, improved motivation and mental health and may increase overall school attendance.
Typically, these a variety of athletic and non-athletic activities. Athletic activities include a range of sports, while non-athletic activities include music, drama, play activities and others. In secondary schools, these may also include outdoor education initiatives such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, World Challenge or experiential activities such as Young Enterprise or the Combined Cadet Forces.
The question is – is there any high-quality evidence about the benefits and impact of extra-curricular activities? And in an environment where school budgets are under extreme pressure and family finances are also stretched for those activities are chargeable, is it worth it?
In 2019, the Social Mobility Commission investigated extra-curricular activities and published a report ‘An Unequal Playing Field’. The SMC gathered data from both primary and secondary sources and the report came up with four main findings
- Young people value extra-curricular activities, and they result in a range of positive outcomes. Extracurricular activities are important in developing soft (especially social) skills as well as being associated with a range of other positive outcomes (e.g. achievement, attendance at school). Extracurricular activities – specifically music classes and playing a wide range of sports – are important in predicting intentions to remain in education after compulsory schooling. Extra-curricular activities boost young people’s confidence to interact socially with others; extend their social networks; and provide them with new skills and abilities. Above all, they offer an important space to have fun and relax away from the pressures of schoolwork. These more qualitative benefits must not be discounted, especially in the context of contemporary challenges around young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
- Opportunities to take part in extra-curricular activities are unequally distributed. Opportunities to participate are driven by household income, school attended, gender, ethnicity and geographic location. Household income is by far the most important factor driving gaps in participation, with children from the poorest households much less likely to take part in all types of extra-curricular activities, but especially music classes and sport.
- Employers in the UK labour market increasingly demand soft skills – and these types of skills (which may be developed via extracurricular activities) could be an important factor in driving intergenerational social mobility.
- New programmes and initiatives are required to widen opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities (and a number of specific recommendations to government were made)
This sounds like clear evidence of positive effects. However, probing a little further suggests some limitations. In February 2023, the Education Select Committee held a review into attendance, since persistent absenteeism is a growing problem, reaching 23.5% of all pupils in England in Autumn 2021, the most recent data set.
The Education Endowment Foundation produced a rapid evidence assessment on attendance and looked into the evidence linking extra-curricular participation to increased attendance. They reported limited evidence that extracurricular activities increase pupil attendance. Of the seven studies identified, while five studies reported that extracurricular interventions had a small positive impact on pupil attendance, effect sizes varied. However, in their Teacher Toolkit, the EEF also cite good evidence to support the benefits of Arts Participation (+3 months progress) and Physical Activity (+1 month progress) and extra-curricular may be the only way that students in Key Stages 4 and 5 can access these benefits, depending on their subject choices. In Key Stage 2, the EEF conducted an evaluation of Children’s University that aimed to increase aspiration and attainment for disadvantaged students and found some promise in improved progress in reading and maths scores in Key Stage 2 tests and small additional gains in teamwork and social responsibility.
There appears to be some evidence to suggest measurable gains for children that participate in extra-curricular activities. But perhaps the intangible gains are the most important – who doesn’t remember that life changing school trip, or the feeling of pride in completing the D of E award, scoring the winning goal or nailing that performance in the school play?
The fact that children enjoy and value extra-curricular activities is perhaps reason enough to champion them and continue to offer a wide range of opportunities in spite of the cost. It feels important that some ‘free to take part’ opportunities in sport and the arts are available to all, and many teachers and school staff feel that sense of social justice and are prepared to give up their time voluntarily. Ensuring that disadvantaged students are supported to take part (via the Pupil Premium or support from national or local charities) is an important part of running an inclusive extra-curricular programme.
Bromcom has the functionality in the system to create clubs and trips, and to record attendance and take payments via My Child At School. More information can be found in our documentation here: https://docs.bromcom.com/article-tags/clubs-and-trips/
We are also working on suggested improvements to these features, including the ad-hoc registration of students to a club and improved reporting and analytics to ensure that groups such as students from disadvantaged backgrounds, those with special educational needs or those from diverse ethnic groups are represented. This is something that Ofsted asks about during inspections and we are working to make this information easily accessible to school leaders.