After school clubs – can they help raise attainment ?

There is a wide gap in educational achievement between rich and poor children and a search is on for ways to close it. One idea is that increasing the clubs and activities children do out of school would help raise attainment. Ongoing research by a team from Newcastle University and NatCen indicates that what activities kids get up to after the school bell has rung  may indeed help. Professor Liz Todd outlines the research and some early findings and explains why it could be important to those looking to bridge this academic divide.

Photo credit: Sean Dreilinger

From music lessons to language classes, childminders to tutoring, many initiatives across Europe have attempted to improve access to out of school activities for disadvantaged children and young people. This includes Berlin’s ‘One Square Kilometre of Education’, Flanders’ initiatives for local communities, and integrated children’s centres in the Netherlands.

In the UK until 2010 we had Extended Schools and Extended Services and now Save the Children are piloting Children’s Communities. What we don’t have though is much evidence of a causal link between doing more out of school and achieving within school.

We know from Sutton Trust research that the richest parents are four times more likely to pay for extra classes outside school for their children than are the poorest parents. We also know that a pretty high percentage -76% – of children of all backgrounds do a range of out of school activities – but that richer children seem to do more.

A long-term study of the impact of different kinds of childcare found that taking part in learning out of school seemed to be an important factor in doing well in Maths and English for 7-11 year olds.

7,000 children

Our Nuffield Foundation funded research is looking into how children aged 5-11 spend their time outside school and links between this and educational achievement. To do this, we are looking at information from some 7,000 children who have taken part in the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS). That information is also linked to records and other information from the National Pupil Database.

We have already started to use a range of statistical techniques to look for any patterns in how children spend their time and the activities they are involved in and to find out whether and how this affects attainment.

We want to see if this varies for different children based on factors such as socio-economic group, gender, and ethnicity and we are going to test the idea that disadvantaged children benefit to a greater extent than others from out of school activities.

We will be doing all this using a novel approach of building theory of change models to investigate the strength of different academic theories in explaining any impacts and differences found.

Findings so far

We have found that 30% of primary school pupils take part in very few organised sports and activity clubs. These children live in largely urban lower income families, and are in striking contrast to the other 70% of children, many of whom take part in a wide range of activities, from sport and music to extra tuition. We called this 30% of children a ‘self-directed’ group.

Actually so far we have identified six groups of children that vary in the ways they engage – or not – in out of school activities.

1. ‘self-directed social’ group (30%) spent a lot of time being with friends and less time doing clubs.

2. ‘hobbies’ group (26%) did a range of activities – from sports to music and other clubs but were unlikely to have any after-school childcare.

3. ‘granny and sports’ group (19%) did sports and were looked after by a grand-parent or family friend.

4. ‘extra instruction’ group (14%) extra tuition was rare overall but this group was more likely than other groups to have extra tuition in a school subject and were mostly from religiously active Christian and Muslim families.

5. ‘extended day’ group (8%) attended breakfast and after-school clubs.

6. ‘busy and structured’ group (5%) were both being looked after by a childminder or nanny and did a lot of after school activities, including extra tuition.

Knowing more about this area is crucial for policy-makers concerned with education, children’s services, social mobility, employment and welfare reform.

What we find out will have implications for debates about childcare for working parents, the role of schools in out of school provision, the role of the commercial and voluntary sectors, parent involvement and equality of opportunities for children.


A useful summary of area based initiatives in education.

Further Information

The team will be reporting in June, but until then you can read the research briefs.

Also in the research team:

NatCen – Emily Tanner, Jenny Chanfreau, Meg Callanan, Karen Laing, Jonathan Paylor, Amy Skipp

Newcastle University – Karen Laing