Give poorer pupils vouchers for extracurricular activities, Sutton Trust says

A poll by the charity finds that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are significantly less likely than their wealthier peers to take up extracurricular activities

Adi Bloom

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The government should introduce a means-tested voucher system to help lower-income families access extracurricular activities, the Sutton Trust has said.

Disadvantaged pupils are significantly less likely to take up extracurricular activities than their wealthier peers.

This is despite the fact that disadvantaged pupils have the most to gain from taking part in such activities, according to a new Sutton Trust report, published today.

The trust polled more than 2,000 teachers and employers, as well as more than 2,500 secondary pupils. It found wide recognition among all three groups of the importance of life skills such as confidence, motivation, resilience and communication.

Disadvantaged pupils' gaps

But there were substantial gaps between the extracurricular clubs and activities that teachers said were provided for pupils, and the level of take-up by pupils.

More than three-quarters (78 per cent) of teachers said that their schools offered volunteering programmes, but only 8 per cent of pupils participated in them. And, while 45 per cent of teachers said that their schools provided opportunities for pupils to take up debating, only 2 per cent of pupils had taken this up.

More than a third (37 per cent) of pupils did not take part in any clubs or activities.

This was particularly true of disadvantaged pupils, who were significantly less likely to take up extracurricular activities than their wealthier peers (46 per cent, compared with 66 per cent). Only half of those receiving free school meals took part in such activities.

And schools with particularly high numbers of pupils receiving free school meals were less likely than other schools to offer activities such as debating clubs.

The Sutton Trust’s report, Life Lessons, states: “This is concerning, as it is disadvantaged groups that have the most to gain from taking part in such activities.”

'Increasing take-up'

The report calls on the government to introduce a means-tested voucher system – or to encourage schools to do this – as part of the pupil premium. This scheme would allow lower-income families to access enrichment activities, such as one-to-one tuition and extracurricular activities.

It states: “Schools should focus on ensuring a wider range of their pupils develop a broad array of non-academic skills…There should be a particular focus on increasing take-up by those from a disadvantaged background.”

Ninety-four per cent of employers told the Sutton Trust that life skills are at least as important as academic skills for the success of pupils. Almost a third said that they found these skills even more useful than academic grades.

The poll also found that more than half of teachers (53 per cent) believed that life skills were more important to young people’s success than academic qualifications. This was echoed by 88 per cent of pupils, who said that life skills were as or more important than good grades.

But only 13 per cent of teachers said that they knew where to go for information to support the development of these skills in their pupils.

'Hardly surprising'

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "It is vital that state schools embed the development of these skills in their ethos, curriculum and extracurricular activities, so that they are as natural a part of school life as English and maths."

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said that the report highlights the fact that there are decreasing opportunities for pupils to take part in extracurricular activities. 

However, he added: "The report fails to grasp that the real reason for the loss of these activities is the high-stakes accountability based on pupils’ outcomes in tests and examinations, which is narrowing the curriculum and the opportunities available.

"Increasingly, children and young people are expected to attend extra tutoring or exam-cramming sessions in their lunch breaks, after school, on Saturdays and in the school holidays, to ensure they achieve the grades required by the government’s imposed league-table targets. It is hardly surprising then that fewer children can make the most of the extracurricular opportunities schools offer."

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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