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EPI: Set ‘Gatsby’ benchmarks for extracurricular activities

Ministers should set benchmarks for extracurricular activities similar to those for careers advice to tackle “concerning inequalities in access”, according to the Education Policy Institute (EPI).

Participating in sports and other hobbies at secondary school is “associated with positive outcomes” for pupils by the time they reach their early 20s. But not all pupils “have equal access to such activities and their benefits”, a report published today found. 

The think tank said non-statutory benchmarks should set the expected standard for provision that is “accessible and appealing to a broad spectrum of students”.

It said these could be “akin to the Gatsby benchmarks”, eight key standards announced by the Department for Education in 2018 which set targets on careers advice for schools to meet by 2020.

Ministers should also consider backing schools to “offer an extended school day, including through additional funding weighted towards schools with more disadvantaged intakes”, the report suggests.

David Robinson, director for post-16 and skills at the EPI, and author of the report, said: “If policymakers are serious about addressing the many inequalities of opportunities for young people, these activities should be considered as an integral part of childhood for all.”

Vulnerable groups less likely to attend clubs

EPI used longitudinal data to asses which pupil characteristics were most strongly associated with take-up of sporting clubs or extracurricular hobbies, arts or music activities when pupils were aged 13 to 15, in 2013 and 2014. 

Researchers then looked at whether participation was associated with a range of outcomes eight years later in 2021, when the same students were 21 to 22. 

It found “vulnerable groups”, including those eligible for free school meals, with special educational needs and disabilities, low prior attainment or poorer health, were less likely to attend clubs. 

Pupils at local authority-maintained schools were less likely to go to clubs for hobbies, arts and music than those at academies, while youngsters at independent schools were more likely to do extracurricular activities than their state school peers. 

EPI analysis found pupils who attended clubs had a higher probability of progressing to higher education and being in employment than those who did not.

The odds of self-reporting poorer health were also 33 per cent higher for those who participated in hobbies, arts and music clubs at school but not in sports clubs.

‘School budgets are under such pressure’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said government needed to boost funding levels to enable “schools to provide enriching extra-curricular activities”.

Geoff Barton

“There’s no doubt that extra-curricular activities are hugely beneficial for those able to take part, but the fact is that school budgets are under such pressure that it is becoming increasingly challenging to run sports clubs and other groups.”

The EPI said associations between club participation and outcomes persisted after controlling for a wide range of student characteristics.

However, it “cannot be sure participation itself caused the difference in outcomes” as “other unmeasured characteristics could be contributing”.

Catherine McKinnell Labour’s shadow schools minister said her party would “incentivise schools to deliver these enriching sports, music and arts subjects for every child by reforming accountability measures”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring all young people have access to high quality extra-curricular opportunities, including disadvantaged pupils, with schools able to use pupil premium and recovery premium to fund enrichment activities.”

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