It's time to reimagine extra curricular activity.

We need to provide co-curricular activities that develop complementary skills, values and competencies. We need to balance the demands of the digital age through the human connection of play and sport.

The recent report from the Education Policy Institute once again brought the topic of extra-curricular activities to the fore. The report found participating in sports and other hobbies at secondary school is “associated with positive outcomes” for pupils by the time they reach their early twenties, but not all pupils “have equal access to such activities and their benefits”.

The report recommends Ministers should set benchmarks for extra-curricular activities, similar to those for careers advice, to tackle concerning inequalities in access. It also recommended the Government should consider supporting schools to offer an extended school day, including through additional funding weighted towards schools with more disadvantaged intakes.

This echoes recommendations of other think tanks, including the Centre for Social Justice’s Game Changer report, published last September. Their report highlights that one in five children do not do any extra-curricular activity in a week, a figure that rises to one in four for children from the most deprived backgrounds. At the core of their vision is a new Right to Sport for all young people, simplifying the spaghetti junction of youth funding streams into a single pot to deliver two hours of additional extracurricular sport every week.

The Youth Sport Trust’s recent manifesto for action – produced in collaboration with voices from sectors including education, wellbeing, physical activity and sport - calls for a new long-term, joined-up national plan guaranteeing every child access to 60 minutes a day, of PE, sport and play. Included within this is a call for for all children to be guaranteed free access to after school activities and sport every week, with opportunities to be active also embedded within wraparound care and co-curricular provision. Being physically active contributes to the development of wellbeing, personal development and important skills for life and work. We believe access to a co-curricular programme for every child can help to balance the demands of the digital age through the human connection of play, sport and other activities.

While it may seem like mere word play, we passionately believe language is important – the term extra-curricular implies something after or in addition to the classroom learning, while co-curricular captures the essence of an enrichment programme complementing and running alongside classroom learning.  By reframing the language of after school sport, it emphasises the equal importance of learning and development that comes from co-curricular activities as well as the fact that these activities enhance access to many aspects of the curriculum.

As we continue to deal with a post pandemic world and a cost-of-living crisis, the need for change is apparent. Too many children are inactive, unhappy and unhealthy and what we’re currently doing isn’t working. Moving to a co-curricular model where children are given the opportunity to try new sports and engage in physical activity throughout the day, will lead to positive benefits for the young people involved, and for society as a whole.

Published on 28 February 2024