Extracurricular activities – Enhancing education beyond the classroom

Illustration of pupils taking part in outdoor extracurricular activities

Step into the dynamic world of extracurricular activities and learn how to finance them and use them as a tool for nurturing a love for learning…

by Teachwire

Financial support for extracurricular activities

close-up photo of three differently-coloured children's piggy banks representing paying for extracurricular activities

Offering parents flexibility when paying for extracurricular activities will ensure no student misses out on vital learning opportunities….

Educational visits and extracurricular activities provide young people with powerful, motivating and memorable experiences.

At good schools, all students will get to experience a wide breadth of opportunities. But for that to be possible, school leaders need to be very clear about how students from disadvantaged backgrounds can participate.

Schools can offer experience days, on which all students within a particular year group take part in a visit. Where school trips are an extension of a subject’s curriculum, school leaders must ensure that every student who needs to attend can do so.

Subsidised prices for extracurricular activities

You may need to make precise calculations about how to use your budget to enable disadvantaged students to access these extracurricular activities.

It may be that leaders can offer a range of payment options by ring-fencing budgets. By working directly with parents you can explore the possibility of subsidising prices for disadvantaged families.

It’s essential that you communicate these kinds of payment avenues to both parents and staff. Teachers who are designing and leading the trips will need to understand how to support participation and raise aspirations.

Many schools have become highly adept at sourcing and accessing funding streams to support valuable education experiences. These might range from using Parliamentary funding to subsidise visits to the House of Commons, to making links with leading universities and promoting their offer to talented students from a diverse set of backgrounds.

Flexibility and time

In my experience, schools can do more to build flexibility into their payment arrangements. Amid the cost of living crisis, many families are now likely to have disrupted and uneven incomes. This can make it difficult to stick to payment plans.

Good, supportive parental engagement can go a long way towards boosting student participation and ensuring payments are ultimately completed. It can often be the case that some families simply need more time.

You’ll typically need to plan overseas visits months in advance. This means that they easily lend (no pun intended) themselves to payment plans spanning months. As well as easing families’ short term financial burdens, long payment plan periods can also allow for more individualised payment arrangements in the event of unforeseen circumstances.

Occasionally, a student many need to pull out of a trip at short notice. If too many opt to do so at short notice it can threaten a trip’s financial viability.

A good strategy is to retain the option to re-advertise any freed-up places to interested students. This prevents places on the trip from becoming more expensive, or even the trip itself from being cancelled outright.

Risks and burdens

It’s good practice to ensure consistent and clear communication around whether deposits are non-refundable, details of payment dates and the potential consequences of missed payments. Manage parental expectations and ensure your trips don’t run at a loss.

Make sure parents are also aware of what to do if they encounter financial difficulties. Explain how you can support them in completing any hardship payment plans.

The payment plan dates for overseas trips are often closely linked to times when a third-party travel company has to pay a significant bill, such as airline tickets or hotel costs. Being able to work with your school business manager on such matters is hugely important.

The EV co-ordinator and trip leader should assess the financial risk that a trip presents to the school. This way, you can mitigate the risks through effective planing and communication.

The EV co-ordinator should monitor the proposed dates and target audiences for trips so that parents aren’t lumbered with any unnecessary financial burdens. An example of what to avoid could be a history and a geography department both deciding to run high profile education visits to support option choices in Y9.

With appropriate planning and support in place, you can still realise your vision for raising student aspiration and expectations via a diverse programme of extracurricular activities reflective of your school’s values.

Daniel Harvey is a GCSE and A Level science teacher at an inner city academy. He is also lead on behaviour, pastoral and school culture.

How extracurricular sport can impact absence rates

Photo of a rugby match being played by students at Ysgol Eirias – a secondary and sixth form school in Colwyn Bay, Wales

Alex Metcalfe looks back on how his school’s overhaul of its extracurricular sport offer had a notable impact on absence rates…

Even before the pandemic, technology had already been having a massive impact on attendance at our school’s programme of extracurricular activities.

Pupils would tell us they’d rather be at home playing on their games consoles or using social media – but there’s no doubt that the pandemic had a huge and lasting effect on engagement with our extracurricular activities, as well as school attendance more generally.

We had been offering the same extracurricular sporting activities for some time, and getting consistently low numbers, to the point that we’d resorted to asking those pupils who did come to bring a friend with them next time. Nothing we did seemed to make much difference – so we asked students what they wanted to see from the PE department’s extracurricular provision.

Hard work and dedication

Some requested that we offer more football. A couple of students suggested we start organising games of dodgeball and other less traditional activities.

In our PE department, every member of staff has some additional middle or senior leadership responsibility within the school. At the same time, we’re now also running one or two extracurricular sessions throughout the week.

Dedicating more staff time and resourcing to our extracurricular offer has been necessary, but not always easy. Extracurricular supervision at Ysgol Eirias is largely voluntary, and I’m conscious of colleagues’ heavy workloads. Any successes we’ve had in making the school’s extracurricular provision work is largely down to their hard work and dedication.

Getting the word out

Consequently, some of our extracurricular PE activities are supervised by staff from other departments. A colleague who organises our school’s involvement in the Duke of Edinburgh scheme also plays football outside of school and therefore supervises some of our football sessions. Our extracurricular supervisors also include teachers from faculties such as Welsh and technology, alongside several of our support staff who want to contribute to our extracurricular programme.

Having dedicated more time and resourcing to our extracurricular offer, we’ve sought to promote it as best as we can. A weekly bulletin goes out to parents each Sunday, which now contains our extracurricular timetable. The same timetable is also featured on our website and social media platforms, and appears in a separate bulletin we distribute to pupils via their form tutors and sports ambassadors.

Thanks to these combined efforts, we’ve started to see increases in the number of those attending, to the extent that we’re pretty much back to what were ‘normal’ levels prior to COVID.

Turning careers around

We know that some of our extracurricular sessions have been particularly helpful for pupils who would otherwise have had issues with coming to school. From the trends observable in attendance data, we’ve seen for ourselves how much school attendance has improved when competitive fixtures against other schools are scheduled.

We’ve recently introduced a new administrative system for our extracurricular sessions, where learners scan a QR code, enter their dinner card number and then select which activities they’d like to attend. This information is automatically pulled through to a spreadsheet, which can tell us how many extracurricular sessions they’ve attended previously and for which sports.

This same data is also linked to our SIMS, making it possible for us to identify who among our session attendees is on free school meals – we hope that this will enable targeted interventions to take place with low attendance learners.

For some pupils, the extracurricular provision we now offer has really turned their school careers around – helping them build their relationships with certain members of staff, and subsequently engage in their lessons during the school day.

I’m a firm believer that sport can teach you every lesson in life. It helps us learn things such as resilience, leadership, respect and patience. Sport can truly be the catalyst for developing valued members of society.

Alex Metcalfe is an assistant headteacher, head of year and PE teacher at Ysgol Eirias – a secondary and sixth form school in Colwyn Bay, Wales.

History extracurricular activities: a case study

Cartoon illustration depicting pyramids, a magnifying glass, books and human figures to convey concept extracurricular activities in history

Patrick O’Shaughnessy details how extracurricular activities can take your students’ history skills to new heights…

It will come as very little surprise to anyone reading this that teaching and history are the raison d’être for history teachers. It’s in the name, after all!

The history curriculum, taught during regular timetabled lessons each week, is the primary vehicle through which history teachers deliver this and seek to inspire, enthuse and transmit their passion for the past. The curriculum is the spine of a school.

Schools are very busy places. The people within them – both teachers and students – spend the majority of their time in timetabled lessons. working through the stipulated curricula.

As Matthew Evans put it in a 2020 essay for The researchED Guide to Leadership, “The school year, the timetable and curricula place learning within temporal boundaries.

Extracurricular activities

However, extracurricular activities offer history teachers and students genuine opportunities to engage with and explore the history beyond the boundaries of the core curriculum, outside of timetabled lessons. These can take many different forms, including trips, projects, clubs, specific activities and much, much more besides.

In short, extracurricular history activities offer students and teachers the chance to further connect with, and immerse themselves in history-related learning. They also promote history as a subject and the history department within the school context.

This is the mindset and approach our history department has taken when planning such extracurricular opportunities. We decided that we wanted to offer a programme of extracurricular activities to our students that allowed them to take their studies beyond the history curriculum studied in lessons.

We wanted to ensure that we clearly outlined the relationship between the two strands – the core history curriculum and co-curricular. This is so that students could understand the inherent links between them if they made the decision to engage with our portfolio of history extracurricular opportunities.

Added incentives

We began planning our initial extracurricular initiative during the logistical complexities of the pandemic, with all the difficulties that this entailed.

With teachers and students in school, and while sometimes working remotely, we wanted to offer structured opportunities for our post-16 historians (both A level and IB).

These would see them select an appropriate historical topic of their choice (with the support and guidance of a history teacher), research said topic and then deliver a presentation on it at our dedicated History Symposium. This is a recorded event that we later stream via the school’s social media channels to showcase their work.

This provided an added incentive and benefit for the students to take part, in addition to the history-specific learning. This was because they could use the symposium (below) to celebrate their achievements beyond the classroom, as well as contribute towards university applications and their growing digital portfolios.

Supplementing this was a formal letter of recognition for each student from the school in a digital format. These further buttressed those students’ digital portfolios.

The choice of whether to work independently or as part of a small team was up to the student volunteers to decide. This eventually resulted in an approximately even split between individuals and small groups.

A tonic to the tyranny

One key observation from the initial iteration of our sixth form History Symposium was the way in which it facilitated wider student historical reading and engagement with historical research. This ranged from the academic to popular interpretations of history.

With the guidance of a history teacher as their mentor, students were able to conduct their own academic research. They cited a broad range of historical works, which helped to frame their thinking. This had the added benefit of a reciprocal and formative dialogue between students and history teachers.

The research process gave our students the scope and latitude to immerse themselves in their historical research and discuss this, often at length, with their assigned mentors.

For any history teacher that has ever felt compelled to cut through curriculum content owing to lesson or time constraints, sidestepping or truncating these elucidating discussions, this experience can provide a pleasant tonic to the tyranny of the school bell.

The impact of the History Symposium over the two years that we have held it has grown significantly within our school context.

We have experienced sizeable growth in student participation from year one to year two. The vast majority of students have reflected favourably on the outcome of the final recorded product, the showcasing of their work via the internet and the formal letter of recognition.

For many of our students, participation in our History Symposium has served as a springboard for entry into external essay prizes. This includes the Robson History Prize offered by Trinity College, Cambridge.

Once we’d completed and filmed our symposium we were able to transition our extracurricular offering and extend help, support and assistance to those formulating essay submissions to this prize and others.

Avoiding oversimplification

Our extracurricular offering for KS3 students has meanwhile taken the format of a ‘Virtual Legacy Wall’. All students in Y7 to Y9 are invited to research an individual, event or organisation that has had a positive impact on history. They need to prepare and record a short presentation on their topic of choice.

Similar to the sixth form symposium, the final edited recording was made available online to showcase their work. We issued formal letters celebrating and recognising student participation to contribute to their digital portfolios.

The student participation process is a similar model to that outlined previously. We invite students to participate in this extracurricular activity. Pupils are offered the support and guidance of a history teacher as a mentor.

The underpinning approaches taken here are tailored to our disciplinary focus on historical significance within the KS3 curriculum and the various debates surrounding this. It builds on the work of our core curriculum to avoid any oversimplification of its meaning and application.

Endless possibilities

In this way, our young historians already had an emerging appreciation of the complexities surrounding historical significance before embarking on this extracurricular endeavour. This gave them food for thought to discuss with their mentors during those invaluable ‘tangent’ conversations.

The success and popularity of this extracurricular activity has meant that in future years we will be extending the opportunity to participate to our GCSE historians.

As a history department, we hope that we have collectively laid a platform for the sustained future growth of, and increased engagement with extracurricular involvement. The rationale for, and format of our co-curricular offering is likely to evolve as our journey continues.

The possibilities for extracurricular involvement in history are huge. These include:

  • book clubs
  • re-enactments
  • listening to and creating podcasts
  • local history projects
  • debates

We look forward to what the future has in store as we continue to develop this aspect of our school provision.

Five reflection questions

  • Why are we offering this extracurricular opportunity?
  • How does this extracurricular opportunity synchronise with, and develop the current provision of the history department specifically, and the wider school more generally? Is it sustainable?
  • What and where is the actual history driving the extracurricular opportunity?
  • Have the students, staff and school community been given a genuine voice in sculpting the extracurricular provision?
  • The outcomes of the extracurricular activity and the ongoing reflection process will be pivotal in driving forward the extracurricular opportunity, both dynamically as it emerges and retrospectively for future iterations. Regular reviews are a positive!

Patrick O’Shaughnessy is a head of humanities, author, public speaker and educational consultant. This article is adapted from an essay titled ‘Going the Extra Mile’. This was originally published in the book What Is History Teaching, Now? edited by Alex Fairlamb and Rachel Ball (£19, John Catt).

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