Call for scheme to help poorer children take part in extra-curricular activities

A bursary scheme should be introduced to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds take part in extra-curricular activities, the Social Mobility Commission has recommended.

Young people aged between 10 and 15 from the poorest families are three times less likely to take part in after-school activities than their peers from the wealthiest families, the organisation said.

Almost three times as many children from the highest income households take part in music activities compared to the lowest income households while 64% of young people from the most well-off backgrounds take part in sport compared to 46% of young people from the least well-off ones, research by the University of Bath showed.

The north east of England had the lowest uptake in music classes among young people, at just 9%, while youth in Northern Ireland were much more likely to participate in extra-curricular activities than anywhere else in the UK, according to the report.

Researchers said young people taking part in extra-curricular activities gain confidence, build up social skills and are more likely to aspire to go onto higher or further education.

Barriers to participation include lack of opportunity, too much expense and a concern by some children that they simply will not fit in, the commission’s chairwoman Dame Martina Milburn said.

She said a bursary scheme, launched on a pilot basis at first, could help disadvantaged households access more activities by covering costs such as fees, equipment and transportation.

In the research, entitled An Unequal Playing Field, she said: “Ultimately our report shows that a young person may miss out on some of the most valuable experiences in life – a chance to bond with others, aspire to learn more and gain the soft skills so important to employers – simply because of their social background and where they grew up.

“It is time to level the playing field.”

She added: “It is shocking that so many people from poorer backgrounds never get the chance to join a football team, learn to dance or play music,”

The commission called for “significant investment” in order to tackle the problem, saying funding could be given to local authorities for subsidised initiatives allowing young people to trial activities.

Other recommendations include having a designated extra-curricular co-ordinator in every state school and improving the collection of data on participation as well as showing the differences in levels of provision in schools.

The research, commissioned by Education Secretary Damian Hinds, used existing evidence as well as the commission’s own data collection across four different areas of England, which included focus groups with parents and young people.

Mr Hinds said: “The recently announced School Sport and Activity Action Plan includes additional support for schools to open up their facilities over the holidays and after hours to encourage every child to find a sport they love and our music ‘hubs’ support thousands of children can learn to play instruments, but there is more to do.

“We want to make sure that there is true equality of opportunity to access extra-curricular activities so that every young person can develop the self-belief that they can do amazing things.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andrew Milligan / PA Wire.

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