‘Shocking’ social divide in music and sport take-up

Social Mobility Commission calls for more cash to fund extra-curricular activities for disadvantaged pupils

social mobility

Children from the poorest backgrounds are three times less likely to take part in any extra-curricular activity than those from the richest families, a new report has revealed.

The report, published today by the Social Mobility Commission, was commissioned by education secretary Damian Hinds.

It reveals “huge disparities” in participation rates in extra-curricular activities between rich and poor pupils – with young people, aged 10 to 15, from wealthier families, much more likely to take part in every type of activity, but especially music and sport.

“It is shocking that so many people from poorer backgrounds never get the chance to join a football team, learn to dance or play music,” said commission chair Dame Martina Milburn.


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“The activity costs too much, it isn’t available or people just feel they won’t fit in. As a result they miss out on important benefits: a sense of belonging, increased confidence and social skills, which are invaluable to employers. It is high time to level the playing field.” 

The report, An Unequal Playing Field, was based on research by the University of Bath which found:

  • 64 per cent of young people from the highest income households take part in sport compared with 46 per cent of young people from the lowest incomes.

  • Around 4 per cent of British Pakistani youth take music classes, compared to 28 per cent of British Indian and 20 per cent of white British youth.

  • Fewer young people in the North East of England take music classes than anywhere else – 9 per cent, compared with 22 per cent in the South East.

  • Young people in Northern Ireland joined in the most activities, such as attending youth clubs.

The commission has now called for the introduction of a national extra-curricular bursary scheme for disadvantaged families as well as funding to extend voluntary sector initiatives, which allow access to activities. It also wants increased capacity for schools to provide extra-curricular activities.

Responding to the report, Mr Hinds said: “The recently announced School Sport and Activity Action Plan includes additional support for schools to open up their facilities over the holidays and after hours to encourage every child to find a sport they love, and our music ‘hubs’ support thousands of children to learn to play instruments, but there is more to do.

“We want to make sure that there is true equality of opportunity to access extra-curricula activities so that every young person can develop the self-belief that they can do amazing things."

Meanwhile, a charity claims social mobility could be increased by targeted investment in training for teachers and school leaders.

The Ambition Institute says the difference between a very effective teacher and a poorly-performing teacher is especially significant for disadvantaged pupils and that, over a year, these pupils gain 1.5. years worth of learning with very effective teachers, compared with 0.5 years with poorly performing teachers.

Interim CEO of the charity Melanie Renowden said: “We need to maintain the public pressure for investment in [teachers’ and leaders’] development as the clear, evidenced route to improved outcomes for all children. We cannot afford not to.”

The Commons Education Committee yesterday raised concerns about the DfE’s £72 million opportunity areas programme, aimed at improving social mobility of schoolchildren in 12 disadvantaged areas of the country.

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