What next for enrichment?
by Bart Shaw
11th November 2021
One of the strangest aspects of decision-making over post-covid recovery in schools over the last few months has been the to-and-fro over extending the school day. Amongst all the “will they, won’t they” U-turns on funding and the understandable concerns over staff and the impact on teachers, an important question has been lost. Do state-educated children have enough opportunities for the kinds of learning and experiences that happen outside of the classroom and national curriculum?
As Geoff Barton pointed out recently, the thinking behind Kevan Collin’s ill-fated plan to extend the school day was to enable young people, especially those from low-income backgrounds, to “re-engage with sport, music and the rich range of activities that define a great education.”
Inequities in access to enrichment activities pre-date Covid. Before the pandemic, a child educated at a private school participated in 3 times more physical activity in school in a week than their peers in a government-funded school. Private schools, on average, spend much more than state schools on the capital investment of building sports, drama, and music facilities. Even within the state sector, schools that serve more deprived communities offer fewer enrichment activities compared to schools serving wealthier areas. These worse-off schools were also slower to resume offering these activities when schools reopened during the pandemic.
Increasing all young peoples’ access to enrichment opportunities is a drum that we are keen to keep banging. Click To Tweet
Over the last few years, our research has touched on a number of areas in which we have seen, first hand, the benefits of various forms of enrichment or non-formal learning. Youth Social Action (young people taking part in activism, campaigning, joining community projects, or volunteering) often takes place outside school through youth groups or family. We’ve been working with the #iwill fund to show how facilitating access for YSA through schools not only leads to benefits for young people but also helps reduce inequities in participation. Delivering opportunities for activities like Youth Social Action through schools (although not necessarily delivered by school staff) means that young people from lower-income backgrounds have a greater chance of taking part and realising those benefits.
The same proved true in our recent evaluation of a Learning through Landscapes programme which involved young people learning outside the classroom in the school grounds. Notwithstanding the positive impacts we found on their environmental knowledge, we also found that a diverse range of young people were more physically active and spent more time outdoors as a result of the programme.
Increasing opportunities for enrichment for young people at their schools will help to level a deeply rutted playing field. Click To Tweet
Most recently, we have been working with the NCS to set out the evidence base on non-formal learning and post-pandemic recovery and to outline potential ways forward for enrichment and non-formal learning in schools. Working with the NCS enabled us to draw on their extensive network of non-formal learning providers. As a result of their convening power, we produced three key recommendations in collaboration with a wide range of experts. The recommendations covered:
- A ringfenced “enrichment” top-up for the Pupil Premium, with grant conditions that could steer schools towards spending on the youth sector
- Facilitating greater collaboration between schools and other providers of non-formal learning, for example, through a DfE funded digital platform to allow local NFL providers and schools to find each other, similar to existing platforms such as https://teaching-vacancies.service.gov.uk/
- Strengthening the regulatory framework for schools around providing enrichment activities, for example, through expanding the “personal development” element of the Ofsted framework or creating enrichment benchmarks.
In the report, we steered clear of repeating calls for extending the school day to accommodate enrichment. We understand that not everyone feels comfortable with the additional demands on schools. Personally, I have to confess a sympathy with proposals such as the Education Policy Institute’s call to open schools before and after normal school hours to engage in enrichment, pastoral, and yes, even some carefully planned academic programmes. As a former secondary teacher, I much preferred and saw more value in late afternoons spent coaching football teams, taking young people out into the Peak District, or helping out in after-school clubs to marking endless piles of books. Before that, as a DfE official, I’d worked on Extended Schools policy, including piloting a subsidy to allow young people from lower-income backgrounds to access after-school activities. Schools can be valuable community hubs and venues for enrichment before and after teachers arrive in classrooms.
So what next for enrichment? This is a question we want to keep asking. Should schools stay open longer so that youth and community groups can offer enrichment to young people? Are the ideas we’ve outlined here worth pursuing? Have we missed other ideas that are worth exploring? Here at CfEY we believe in the power of enrichment activities such as social action to change young peoples’ lives. We want to continue a conversation about working together across the education and youth sectors to build a broad, universal entitlement to enriching opportunities for young people.
We’re looking forward to finding people who are interested in talking with us about these questions. Maybe even partners to pursue this project with? If that’s you, please get in touch!
 (for example in terms of career readiness, as we argue here https://cfey.org/2021/02/youth-social-action-what-are-the-benefits-for-careers-education/ and social and emotional learning, as we’ve seen through our evaluation of the Ormiston Academies Trust’s https://www.ormistonacademiestrust.co.uk/ #iwill programme, delivered across their 40 schools)