This article was written for SecEd Magazine
This is part two of a 5-part series. Catch-up with Part One.
While no-one would argue against the merits of offering pupils the chance to experience a wider curriculum and to participate in enjoyable and enriching activities, the challenge for schools is often one of resources, as we discussed in detail during a recent episode of the SecEd Podcast (2022).
After all, extra-curricular activities need to be staffed and staff time costs money. These activities need to be accommodated and keeping school open also incurs costs. And many activities require specialist equipment, which again has financial implications.
A further challenge is exactly when to run activities in a way that doesn’t unduly inconvenience staff or pupils, including the site staff who may have to open the school early or keep it open later. And the timing of activities must not exclude some pupils because of transport issues or because of other commitments outside of school. So, how can schools overcome these challenges?
The first question to ask is: who should run extra-curricular activities? Should it be teachers or support staff? Should it be staff employed by the school at all, or perhaps local volunteers or organisations? Should adults run activities or is it sometimes feasible or advisable for older students or school alumni with a penchant for a particular skill to offer peer-taught sessions?
The second question is: should those running activities do so voluntarily or should they be paid? If paid, should their payment be monetary or in the form of time in lieu or something else?
Emma Marshall, principal of Havelock Academy in Grimsby, told SecEd that “a flexible approach to staffing” is needed. In her school, extra-curricular staff are mostly but not exclusively voluntary.
She explained: “As a music teacher of many years, before becoming principal, I always delivered extra-curricular activities as part of the job.
“My reward has always come via the activities themselves and the outcomes for the students. Many of our teachers feel the same way, not just within the arts and sport, but it is particularly true of these areas.”
She added that Havelock “has a number of staff on the leadership team who continue to offer extra-curricular activities, despite it sometimes being difficult fitting this in”.
“Doing so models the benefits and culture of providing enrichment for students and it also ensures (staff) still get the opportunity to do what (they) love so much.
“Having a breadth of talents – including teachers, but also other staff, as well as people from outside school, hired or volunteering to do extra-curricular activities – is the best approach. We pay staff for summer school activities and are usually able to apply for grants from the Department for Education (often via the local authority) to do this.”
Ms Marshall added: “If we had more funding, we could buy in more staff, and so would have more time. But many staff are keen and willing to provide enrichment for free and so ensuring they have the time to do so is important – keeping workload expectations sensible and reasonable for example.”
PODCAST: Extra-curricular activities
This episode of the SecEd Podcast considers extra-curricular activities and what effective provision looks like across the secondary school, including common challenges, staffing, quality-control, and equitable access. What kind of activities work best? How do we schedule these? How do we encourage students to take-up provision? How does this feed into a “broad and balanced” curriculum? And many more questions. Listen for free here.
Next, we need to consider the “when?” – when is the best time to run activities?
Ms Marshall said that extra-curricular activities tend to “work best straight after school, with regular days for set activities” but “a flexible approach to suit the needs of staff and students” is also advisable.
Havelock’s director of music, Ian Cooke, added that “regular, weekly, after-school activities are a staple for many children and they benefit hugely from this provision, particularly in sport and performing arts”. Havelock “also offers regular lunchtime activities”.
Whatever part of the day is used, however, sessions tend to work best when they are “weekly and on the same day so that children can build them into their routines”.
Caroline Barlow, headteacher of Heathfield Community College in East Sussex, agrees that scheduling activities to maximise engagement was crucial. Her school’s programme is “organised to ensure maximum opportunities for engagement”.
“Where students may struggle to stay after school due to other outside commitments, we ensure there are opportunities within the school day or activities they can engage with online so that they can access (extra-curricular activities) at home at a time that fits into their day.”
All Heathfield’s extra-curricular activities are digital and, because all their pupils have an iPad, they are all able to engage with the wealth of activities on offer, from watching a recording of a National Theatre Live performance to making pancakes or performing science experiments in their home kitchen.
Ms Barlow said that Heathfield had also worked hard “to support disadvantaged students and to remove as many barriers as possible to enrich their curriculum”.
She added that it was “important to us that we provide opportunities (whereby) every student can find something they enjoy doing and … we actively support them to engage with their passions”.
The next question is the “what?” in the form of resources. If an activity requires specialist resources, who pays for this: the school or pupils’ parents/carers?
If pupils are expected to foot the bill, is money made available for those who cannot afford to pay and thus would otherwise be excluded from participating? If so, where does the money come from and how is its impact measured and reported?
And how can schools identify pupils who want to engage with activities but don’t express an interest because they know they won’t be able to afford to take part? How can schools ensure that those pupils who are helped financially are not identifiable by their peers?
Ms Marshall explained that at Havelock Academy they have to “offer virtually everything for free as so many of our families simply could not afford otherwise”.
Some programmes can be supported financially through Pupil Premium funding while others can attract “external funding or trust funding”. She continued: “The school provides transport to and from sporting fixtures, rather than expecting parents to do this, to make sure transport and the cost of travel do not stop students from participating.
“And the school only charges for the big trips – things like the overnight London theatre visits, and even then in exceptional circumstances we would try to subsidise, or work with others to see what subsidies are available, such as through the local authority looked after children team where applicable.”
Using the Pupil Premium
The Pupil Premium can be used to pay for extra-curricular activities – whether this is targeted at those in receipt of the funding or not. It can be used flexibly – including on provision for those not eligible – so long as its impact can be demonstrated by a closing of the attainment gap.
According to government Pupil Premium guidance (DfE, 2022), schools should utilise a wide range of external evidence to inform their decision-making when spending the funding.
The guidance says that research evidence can help schools to better understand which specific activities are the most effective in terms of potential impact in addressing the types of challenge that disadvantaged pupils face as well as how they should be implemented. To this end, the guidance says that schools should:
- Consult a wide range of independent, high-quality reviews of evidence, such as the evidence summaries published by Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).
- Assess whether the evidence is based on a context relevant to their school.
- Consider how to be an effective consumer and challenge evidence claims made by external providers.
- Weigh-up the expected impact of any outcome against the cost of implementing it.
Then, schools should draw up a plan that:
- Focuses on the challenges that are having the most significant impact and are within their control.
- Sets ambitious, but realistic, targets.
- Allocates funding to activities most likely to deliver those outcomes, based on evidence of what works.
Evaluating the impact
If using the Pupil Premium to fund extra-curricular activities, then impact must be measured. The guidance states that schools:
- Should measure success based on outcomes for disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils.
- Should implement a robust and transparent evaluation framework and report outcomes against this.
- Should ensure evaluation is an on-going process.
- Should not use data that does not focus on pupil outcomes.
- Should not base evaluation on the reactions of those delivering the activity.
- Should not use vague intended outcomes from the start as then making an accurate assessment of improvements becomes more difficult.
The government suggests three tiers of strategies that schools could implement using the Pupil Premium: High quality teaching, targeted academic support, and wider strategies – which include extra-curricular activities such as sports, outdoor activities, arts, culture and trips, and extended school time, including summer schools.
An example: Participation in the arts
The EEF proffers the example of arts participation which it defines as “involvement in artistic and creative activities, such as dance, drama, music, painting, or sculpture (which) can occur … an as extra-curricular activity”.
Its evidence brief (see further information) argues that “extra-curricular activities are an important part of education in their own right”.
These approaches may increase engagement in learning, but – the EEF cautions – “it is important to consider how increased engagement will be translated into improved teaching and learning”.
Commenting on the effectiveness of arts participation, the EEF says that overall, the average impact of arts participation on other areas of academic learning appears to be positive but moderate, about an additional three months’ progress.
It adds: “Improved outcomes have been identified in English, mathematics and science. Some arts activities have been linked with improvements in specific outcomes. For example, there is some evidence of the impact of drama on writing and potential link between music and spatial awareness. Wider benefits such as more positive attitudes to learning and increased wellbeing have also consistently been reported.”
There is intrinsic value, the EEF says, in teaching pupils creative and performance skills and ensuring disadvantaged pupils access a rich and stimulating arts education: “Arts participation may be delivered within the core curriculum, or though extra-curricular or cultural trips which can be subject to financial barriers for pupils from deprived backgrounds.”
There is some evidence to suggest a causal link between arts education and the use of arts-based approaches with overall educational attainment: “Where the arts are being taught as a means to boost academic achievement for those eligible for the Pupil Premium, schools should carefully monitor whether this aim is being achieved.”