The Knowledge

Enrichment: How can we close the extra-curricular gap?

As new research reveals the breadth and impact of the enrichment gap, Adam Hawksbee sets out what it will take to make a real difference

As new research reveals the breadth and impact of the enrichment gap, Adam Hawksbee sets out what it will take to make a real difference

28 Nov 2022, 5:00

School leaders will have been reassured by the autumn budget. Following heavy pitch rolling about difficult trade-offs ahead, the fact the schools budget did not fall victim to the Chancellor’s red pen is good news. But the new Government must know that an additional £2.3 billion alone will not be sufficient to give children the education and enrichment they deserve.

Young people were some of the hardest hit by the pandemic. Half of pupils in state comprehensive schools feel their progress suffered in school due to Covid. Two in five do not feel ready for their next step. Referrals to children and adolescents’ mental health services (CAMHS) are at an all-time high.

These problems did not start in 2020. Despite overall attainment rising, the disadvantage gap has scarcely closed in over a decade. And employers are frustrated because pupils are leaving school lacking the softer skills needed to operate in a workplace: the CBI reports two in five of its members feel school leavers are not ‘work ready’.

So simply maintaining funding at 2010 levels, while positive, is not going to shift the dial. We need to be investing in the interventions that work.

Benefits beyond grades

School enrichment is a vital ingredient to boosting outcomes. The Education Endowment Foundation attests that it can lead to up to 3 months academic progress. A study of international evidence carried out by the department for culture, media and sport found numeracy improved by an average of 8 per cent as a result of pupils participating in organised sport. The greatest improvements were seen from previously underachieving pupils.

And the benefits of enrichment are not limited to students’ grades. The extended services in schools programme, from 2003 and 2010, repeatedly demonstrated pupils were more engaged in school, showed better attitudes to learning and were more confident with better social skills as a result. That is why Sir Kevan Collins made school enrichment central to his education recovery plan.

The enrichment gap

Yet too many pupils are missing out on the enriching education they need. Recent Onward research shows that almost half of young people in the wealthiest decile by the index of multiple deprivation attend clubs after school, like youth clubs and scouts, compared to a quarter of those from the most deprived decile.

The wealthiest pupils are also three times more likely to sing in a choir or play in a band and almost twice as likely to play a musical instrument. They are also more physically active and report greater levels of self-belief and life satisfaction.

More than money

We know that as budgets tighten extracurricular activities are first on the chopping block. So we need to find a way for schools to maintain these programmes affordably. Yes, schools need financial support to do this. Which is why Onward has called for a ring-fenced enrichment premium to facilitate partnerships with local charities and businesses.

But it takes more than money. Schools face workforce constraints and, despite the best intentions, struggle to target intervention at the pupils who could benefit most.

So Ministers need to think inventively to respond to these challenges. They should create new guidance detailing how heads can extend their school day without overburdening teachers, drawing on the success of multi-academy trusts like Inspiration or Star.

They should also take a much more active role in involving parents, who are vital to get onside and a large pool of potential volunteers. In the UK, only 6 per cent of parents help with extracurricular activities, compared to 23 per cent in the United States.

And they need to help schools to confront the barriers to extending the school day, like opening buildings for longer and making sure pupils can get home safely.

The new Prime Minister has called education the closest thing to a silver bullet we have. Last week, he showed his commitment to it. But at some point ministers will need to stop playing catch up and start making progress. An ambitious plan for school enrichment would be a good place to start.

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