During lock down, as a result of Coronavirus, there has been a widening of the achievement gap in schools. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are the most likely to have fallen behind academically when schools were closed to the majority of pupils in March 2020.
In April, to try and help the most affected children get back on track, The Sutton Trust suggested that, “Schools should consider running ‘catch up classes’ for children from poorer backgrounds” when schools reopened. That time has now come and pupils in Year 7 are thought to be at particular risk of having fallen behind. If schools are concentrating on academic catch up classes during normal curriculum time or after school, then it means that certain groups of pupils will have less opportunity to access extracurricular or enrichment activities.
Covid-19 and lockdown has highlighted and exacerbated existing inequalities in our society. This has been seen across a wide variety of sectors including health outcomes and access to outdoor space. The Children’s Commissioner reported that children from low income families were nearly three times more likely to have had no access to outdoor space during lock down. Access to extracurricular activities and enrichment opportunities will show a similar pattern of inequality.
The Social Mobility Commission found that children from the poorest sections of our society were less likely to take part in all types of extracurricular activities. Opportunities to take part in enrichment and extracurricular activities are also affected by gender, ethnicity and geographic location but household income has the largest impact. This trend is repeated for residentials where research shows that pupils in disadvantaged areas have the fewest opportunities to take part.
Extracurricular activities have a wide range of benefits, proven by research including developing social skills, confidence and positive outcomes such as improving attendance at school. They also provide a space for children and young people to learn new skills, have fun and relax away from their academic work. This sort of development and investment in mental wellbeing should be an entitlement for all children and young people in our society, not just those from wealthier households.
It is important schools close the academic attainment gaps for any young people who have fallen behind during the pandemic but learning is so much wider than academic studies. At YHA we see first-hand the positive impact of residential trips on students which is why we are working together with schools to find ways to increase access to the outdoors and learning in nature. By launching YHA Day Stays school children will be able to gain some of the benefits of a residential but on a day visit. We will continue to explore ways to support local schools during this challenging time. Extracurricular opportunities should not be sacrificed for disadvantaged young people as they are entitled to as rich and varied an educational life as their wealthier peers.
Iesha Small is Head of Strategy and Policy at YHA and a former teacher.
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