Out of school activities and the education gap

This project used large-scale data analysis and case studies to explore how children aged 5-11 spend their time outside of school, and the implications for their academic attainment.

Key findings:
  • Economically disadvantaged pupils had lower take-up of most organised activities than their more affluent peers except for after school clubs.
  • The reasons for take-up of after school clubs included the low cost, convenience associated with them taking place at school and the reassuring familiarity of staff and location.
  • After school club attendance was associated with positive academic and social outcomes for disadvantaged children in particular.
  • Organised physical activities were associated with higher attainment and better social, emotional and behavioural outcomes at age 11.
  • School staff, parents and pupils identified a wide range of perceived benefits from taking part in after school clubs covering academic as well as social and emotional outcomes.

The findings highlight the potential value of after school clubs for increasing opportunities for disadvantaged pupils as well as supporting positive outcomes.

The researchers analysed the latest data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), with MCS data linked to the National Pupil Database. They also conducted interviews with parents, children and activity providers, to get a better understanding of the factors that influence how children spend their time, and how activities might affect children's learning and development.

In addition, the researchers used a novel approach of building logic models to investigate the strength of different academic theories in explaining any impacts and differences found.

This study provides robust, up-to-date evidence from well-established longitudinal datasets on an important aspect of children's lives. The findings will be of interest to policy-makers concerned with education, children's services, social mobility, employment and welfare reform. The findings also have implications for debates about childcare for working parents, the role of schools in out of school provision, the role of the commercial and voluntary sectors, parent involvement and equality of opportunities for children.

Project details


Dr Emily Tanner, National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), and Professor Liz Todd, Newcastle University

Grant amount and duration


1 May 2014 - 31 July 2016