Cast your mind back to your school days and think about what opportunities your school offered outside of the classroom. Were you a member of the running team or perhaps you played the violin? Maybe you took part in a debating club or even joined the air cadets. Additional learning opportunities such as these offer the chance to develop and learn useful life skills in a fun environment, but when school budgets are stretched they do not always get the attention they deserve.
Partaking in extracurricular activities such as sport or learning a musical instrument brings a broad array of benefits to young minds. As well as being enjoyable in their own right, extracurricular interests provide a welcome distraction from the troubles of school life and the general angst that comes with one’s teenage years. The stress relief alone allows young people to return to their studies with a clear and focused mind. Sport develops skills in teamwork, leadership and problem solving – all vital skills for entering the world of work. Hobbies teach young people to appreciate the importance of hard work, determination and practice. Playing chess or learning an instrument fosters growth in patience and focus which translate directly into studying for exams.
Employers are aware of the advantages of sports and hobbies, and their recruitment of new employees reflects this. Two out of three businesses believe candidates with extracurricular experience make more successful employees and progress faster in their careers. If this is the case, then why are more efforts not put into providing these opportunities for young people?
Research in both British and American schools has found that extracurricular participation correlates with increased attendance and homework completion, a more positive attitude to learning, improved academic attainment, and higher aspirations for further education. In the UK there is a correlation between the level of activities a school offers outside of the classroom and its performance in exams.
The substantial evidence for the positive effect of sports and hobbies on academic achievement and motivation in young people ties in with its desirability among employers and universities. This makes providing the opportunity to partake in in extracurricular activities a no-brainer. The question is, are we doing enough?
Unfortunately when times are tough and budgets are tight schools are not always able to afford the facilities or staff required to provide a service which might be viewed as ‘surplus to requirements’. When push comes to shove, exam results are the priority leaving the chess club and the violin teacher first to walk the plank in stormy weather. That being said, Ofsted now encourage the provision of learning outside the classroom and, as of 2016, will now review school based upon: “how well the school supports the formal curriculum with extra-curricular opportunities for pupils to extend their knowledge and understanding to improve their skills in a range of artistic, creative and sporting activities.”
In recent years there has been a trend towards longer school days running beyond the traditional 3 pm finishing time. This extra time is often dedicated to ‘enrichment’ allowing pupils to choose between a variety of sports, creative arts and community projects.
Varndean school in Brighton, one of the schools I work with, has an extensive music programme in which every Year 7 pupil is given a free musical instrument and music lessons. The school has an impressive collection of sixty cellos, sixty violins, sixty flutes, sixty clarinets, sixty trumpets, sixty trombones and one harp. This is part of a wider effort to give pupils what the school refer to as the ‘Varndean Edge’. This music scheme, a broad selection of sporting activities, and even a heard of pygmy goats that pupils can help look after (and have allegedly had a marked effect on behaviour) makes Varndean a popular school among both parents and pupils. It is no surprise that in a school focused on providing more than the formal curriculum, GCSE results have been on an upward trajectory in recent years.
Sports, arts and hobbies can enrich a young person’s life and advance their mind in a way that isn’t achievable in the standard curriculum. Everyone deserves the opportunity to take up a musical instrument, join a sports team or learn skills outside the classroom. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and when budgets are low, extracurricular activities are often neglected in favour of exam results regardless of the wider benefits these opportunities can bring.