Why do parents choose to spend up to twenty thousand pounds a year to educate their children privately? Prestige? Snobbery? A misplaced perception that if they pay, it must be better?

Independent schools would list reasons more closely connected with pedagogy. Small classes, traditional standards…plus something a little more left field. A wide provision of extra-curricular activities.

Clubs and Activities – A Case Study

In a recent, in depth and scientifically viable study recently carried out by myself, I visited the website of one local prep school. Never let it be uttered that these articles are not thoroughly researched. I’d better not name the school, because we know people who work there, and they know where we live. But as schools of its kind go, it is OK.
The children are fairly happy. Admittedly, there was an incident recently whereby a boy was tied to a tree during morning break, Lord of the Flies style. He wasn’t actually missed until the end of the afternoon, which is probably taking the advantages of outside learning a little too far, although he won’t forget his experience.

However, that sort of thing is reasonably isolated, and generally the children we see in the village shop are polite as they buy their daily dose of Freddo and fizzy pop. A much needed reward for a day which may have run for twelve hours.
It has to, you see, because the school offers one hundred and fifteen clubs per week. Excluding sport. Which everybody plays. Daily. The privileged youngsters of this establishment really do get their parents’ money’s worth. They can try their hand at anything from the curiously named Ribbitting Rhythms to percussion groups to more drama than you can throw an Oscar at. My personal favourite is the comfortingly named Reading and Hot Chocolate Club. (I might see if they have a spare space …)

Why? As much as these clubs offer a wide – very, very wide – range of opportunities to students, I can’t really see them being a deal maker when it comes to parents forking out the fifteen grand per year in fees. Pepperpot Perfect for four year olds (what’s that, synchronised sneezing?) may be fun, but is it going to help to teach a reception child how to read?

Extra-Curricular Activities – the Science (Sort of)

Well, maybe. Because there are strong theories about the benefits of extra-curricular provision. Nothing proved, mind you, and often these benefits are of the common sense, it’s what they did in my day kind much loved of politicians. Especially when they are trying to explain away some anti-social trend by blaming it on schools.

Will half an hour of organised rap once a week really see the end of knife crime? Presumably, any self-respecting young gang member will choose the streets over a loud and sweaty session in a cramped classroom even if it is run by the well-meaning young music teacher.

So what are those benefits, and do they make a difference? My in depth research started badly. The school upon which it was based lists ‘Activities and Clubs’ as one of just seven main headings on its website, so it clearly values them highly. Unfortunately, it’s first justification for running (and charging for) so many extracurricular opportunities is easily dismissed. Its argument is that clubs provide essential socialisation skills for kids. Impressive sounding, but the idea that such socialisation can only take place during an organised session of Pokémon (Tuesday lunchtime, Pikachu Room) is weak. Presumably, even at a posh school like this, children play together and talk with one another. Socialise in other words.

But then things begin to look up. These extra-curricular activities, they claim:

• Broaden children’s interests;
• Pursue excellence in chosen interests;
• Build self-confidence;

I think we might a couple of additional factors to this list. Clubs, activities and trips take learning out of the classroom and embed it in actual experience. There is plenty of evidence that we learn best when we experience first-hand rather than study through sources like books or videos.

Benefits for Teachers

Activities are fun (or, at least, should be), and there is much to be said for that. Further, there are benefits for teachers who run extracurricular activities. To see students out of the classroom gives us a different perspective on them. We will get to know them better, and might find that, in the relaxed environment of an after school club, children talk to us in a way that they do not in the more formal setting of a lesson.

At the same time, our students see us in a different light as well. The point about a club is (or, at least, should be) that it is voluntary. Therefore, students are there because they want to be. That makes behaviour management easier.

We are thus more relaxed, and our students’ perception of this spreads into academic time, making lessons smoother to run.

Mostly (in theory at least) parents and students are grateful to us for giving up our time, and that rubs off positivity on how we are perceived. In turn, this may make dealing with classes less of a challenge, since we will be regarded as a ‘good teacher.’

Clubs are Not All Messy Painting and Jolly Hockey Sticks

However there are downsides to extracurricular activities. They take planning and marking time away from teachers. Outside bodies will run clubs, at a cost, but the benefits to us as teachers are then lost.

There is little doubt that some parents see activities as a free child care service. The school mentioned earlier offers breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. It will occupy a child for the whole day, meaning parents can drop off at 7.30 in the morning, and collect twelve hours later. Which is convenient, allowing parents to work the long hours required to pay their fees!

Keeping Club Provision In Perspective

We should really question the sense of a twelve hour day…for pupils and teachers. The Government would be delighted for the maintained sector to offer such all round care. Soon, provision may become a requirement, with the naughtiest students made to stay in a sort of fun filled detention. That would be a worrying, and unsustainable, trend.

Then there is the question of cost. Miss Wilkins’ football club might be free to all, but a trip to the theatre is not, as worthwhile as that might be.

So, we can conclude by saying that there are direct and indirect benefits of running extracurricular activities. If we offer to lead some ourselves, we will see the benefit of doing so in our everyday relationships with students. Clubs are important…but so is time away from school. For students and teachers.

RELATED TOPICS

1- Extracurricular activities every student should participate in
2- Best extracurricular activities for studens
3- The role of extracurricular activities in a student development
4- How beneficial are extra-curricular activities?

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