Exciting Developments in Co-Curricular Sports

Youth Sport Trust Head of Sport Vicci Wells talks about latest developments and how schools can plan and deliver.

This week, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) released a new report delving into participation trends and long-term outcomes for students engaging in extra-curricular activities during secondary school. To get a comprehensive look at the findings and recommendations, check out the full report here.

In my role as Head of Sport at the Youth Sport Trust, I've been passionately exploring the role and value of extra-curricular sport, although I and the team at the Trust prefer to use the term co-curricular, as it emphasises more strongly those activities that are beyond the regular curriculum yet complement it, and form part of a coordinated approach to an all-round education. By this we mean something which is more than an extra, optional activity that is not aligned to the curriculum.

It's not just about understanding 'why' co-curricular sport is important, but more about the 'how'—how schools plan, deliver, and monitor the impact of their provision. My team has been actively collaborating with various schools, from secondary to special and alternative provisions, to understand the landscape of co-curricular sport and identify potential barriers and I am thrilled to be sharing these insights in the coming months!

Here are my five key takeaways from the EPI report I highlighted above, and I'd love to hear yours:

Inequality Persists: Vulnerable young people are less likely to attend extra-curricular sport clubs, with those eligible for free school meals 11% less likely, young people with SEND 23% less likely and female students 12% less likely. Many young people who are less likely to attend sports clubs, are also less likely to attend clubs for arts or music. Addressing this gap is crucial, especially considering last year's Department for Education survey which revealed that almost 1 in 5 parents reported limitations in their child's participation in after-school activities.

Long-Term Benefits: Attending sports clubs in secondary school correlates positively with being in employment or education at ages 21/22. This underscores the significance of investing in this offer at school as a way to develop skills and improve employability and life chances, with 59 out of every 100 students who attended sports clubs being in employment or education compared to 50 out of 100 who attended no clubs.

Collaboration is Key: There needs to be greater collaboration across sectors including sports, arts and music, at both national and local levels. At the School Sport and Physical Activity Partnership Forum last year, insights from the Cultural Learning Alliance emphasised the importance of evidence and a shared partnership to increase impact. The positive association between attending sports and arts/music clubs in secondary school reinforces the need for cross-disciplinary collaboration that provides a wide-range of opportunities for all young people.

Benchmarking Excellence: The report suggests the introduction of benchmarks for extra-curricular activities, such as the Gatsby benchmarks for careers guidance. Defining what constitutes high-quality extra-curricular activity ensures accessibility, inclusivity, and meaningful engagement for a diverse student body. We need to be asking;

  • What does high quality extra curricular activity look like?
  • Who attends our extra curricular clubs?
  • What does it take for our most vulnerable young people to thrive at school and how does what we provide in terms of extra-curricular contribute?

We need a collective drive and energy to spread opportunities for co-curricular more evenly.

It is not an optional extra Extra-curricular activities are an integral component of the school landscape, significantly influencing the well-being and educational journey of our young people. For example, despite the tireless efforts of schools and increased political focus, attendance rates in education settings remain a pressing concern. Shockingly, over a fifth of pupils missed more than one in 10 sessions last academic year, with a disproportionately high rate of over 35% among those on free school meals.

This crisis takes on even more urgency when considering research by ImpactEd Evaluation, which suggests that a sense of belonging is a critical driver for attendance. Their research revealed students in the bottom 20% of attendance scored lower for feeling like a genuine part of the school, with female pupils expressing lower belonging than their male counterparts, and in 2019 the Social Mobility Commission further underscored the long-term impact, as it revealed that participation in extra-curricular activities correlates with higher levels of civic engagement in adulthood.

As we delve into the post-pandemic landscape, the issue of attendance becomes even more intricate, with students missing out not only on academic sessions but also on the enriching experiences provided by co-curricular clubs.

I firmly believe that co-curricular provision is transformative, shaping not only how children feel in school but also their overall perception of education and improving life chances.

What are we doing currently at the Youth Sport Trust?

  • Highlighting schools with broad and engaging co-curricular offers and how they have overcome barriers that exist.
  • Implementing a Multisport pilot to transform access to and delivery of after-school sport in secondary education to make it, inspirational, meaningful and accessible to all young people through empowering a youth led movement. This movement will offer multi-sport experiences through creating environments focused on supporting young people to feel a sense of belonging and have a positive identity through physical activity, play and sport.
  • Leading a consortium of organisations to deliver Inclusion 2024 the term given to the SEND Inclusion in PE grant by the Department for Education, enhancing opportunities for children and young people with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) to engage and participate in physical education and school sport.
  • Promoting positive experiences through the School Games, fostering a lifelong love for physical activity and striving to provide every child with a positive experience in an environment where the young person’s motivation, competence and confidence are at the centre.

Let's continue the conversation—share your insights and experiences on the role of extra-curricular or co-curricular activities in shaping the future of our young people! You can follow Vicci on Twitter here.

I firmly believe that co-curricular provision is transformative, shaping not only how children feel in school, but also their overall perception of education and improving life chances.

Vicci Wells, Head of Sport
Vicci Wells, Head of Sport
Published on 26 February 2024