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Providing Extracurricular Activities is a Challenge Right Now – but it’s More Important than Ever

Between funding and workload, after-school extras can be a real strain on resources – but they're essential for staff and students alike, says Vic Goddard...

  • Providing Extracurricular Activities is a Challenge Right Now – but it’s More Important than Ever

I know I hide it well, but my first passion as a teacher was physical education (18 years is a long time, as my waistline shows).

I loved being a PE teacher, but when I reflect back on that time, my most significant memories aren’t to do with what I achieved with students during lessons.

I worked at a great place, The Angmering School, with fantastic role models (thanks Dave Yates and Kev Grant) – and practically every lunchtime, after school, and even on Saturdays, we would be busy running some kind of club or activity to develop participation and excellence with our learners.

To be with those young people that had the fire to push themselves to try something new, or to excel in something they already did, in their own time, was a massive privilege.

However, when I ask myself, would I still have the motivation and energy to do as much now, as a PE teacher in today’s school environment, as I did back then, I am not certain. Why is that?

Forced decisions

I remember when the EBacc was introduced, and Mr Gove was asked about the lack of importance it seemed to place on the arts. His response was that good schools offer those things extensively outside of school hours.

Of course that is true – but it hides the pragmatic reality that unless a subject is recognised as contributing to a positive outcome from Ofsted it will be marginalised in some schools, especially those under pressure; in other words, the very institutions that most need to enrich students to promote engagement.

I was incredibly lucky at school, in that I was able to play sport to a good level whilst also singing and acting in productions etc. I would be devastated if this generation lost those opportunities – but I refuse to lay the blame for that happening at the door of teachers or headteachers.

It is easy to complain about the SLT when students’ extracurricular time is taken up with revision sessions and interventions, rather than other, non-exam focused activities.

However, most decisions of this kind are made in direct response to what the government/Ofsted thinks are current priorities, and the resources available to meet them. When things get tight, we tend to narrow our behaviour to focus on what’s ‘vital’, not ‘optional’.

Keep fighting

So I really do empathise with all those colleagues who are struggling to keep the arts, sport and other extracurricular activities alive – but I hope with all my heart that they keep trying, as it’s those ‘extras’ that provide the serotonin that every school needs.

Both we and our students would miss so much if they were to disappear; and by way of illustration, I want to finish by sharing something that happened to me recently.

Our English department just took on producing Macbeth with students to support the learning going on in the classroom. It was led by a young member of staff, Michaela; she had benefited from being involved in the arts when she was a student at Passmores.

I know it was really hard work, and they all gave up 100s of hours. It was also flipping awesome! I could not have been more proud.

The day after the final performance I found a card and some goodies on my desk. They were from Michaela, thanking me for giving her the opportunity to give up those 100s of hours to direct the play.

Our schools are full of amazing, hard working professionals, like Michaela. Yes, we as heads must do all we can to filter out the stuff that doesn’t really matter.

However, we need the government to recognise that if they keep squeezing the profession with constant change, fewer resources, and a fear-promoting accountability system, something will have to give – and I’m afraid that’s most likely to be the stuff that not only helps young people to live full and happy lives once they leave our care, but also provides inordinate joy and lifelong memories.

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