news 24.02.21

Efforts to help children catch up at school could fail if extra-curricular learning activities are not prioritised

Extra-curricular learning and activities, such as volunteering, developing a skill or getting better at a sport, must not be de-prioritised in the rush for children to catch up in their schoolwork, as it could threaten their ability to make progress academically, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) warns today.

As schools re-open in England, the charity says it is critical that young people are able to take part in non-academic activities that help them reconnect properly with friends and their communities, and re-build their resilience and confidence, so they are more able to make progress in the classroom.

The needs of millions of young people returning to school are now more complex: a recent Young Minds survey showed that 83% of young people said the pandemic has made their mental health worse.

While academic lessons have an important part to play in helping young people catch up, widespread evidence shows extra-curricular activities and youth services play a critical role in both academic achievement and improving mental health. They must be prioritised as part of the national solution.

Vulnerable teenagers able to access quality extra-curricular activities are more likely to go to university (Peck et al) and reach their numeracy and reading targets (Education Research Quarterly)

– Targeted youth work delivered in partnership with schools has played a vital role in efforts to close the poverty-related attainment gap in Scotland – including through dramatically improving school attendance (YouthLink Scotland)

–  Participants in The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award have reported higher levels of resilience, with more than 60% saying it made them more confident in overcoming difficult situations and helped them to feel more independent (The DofE).

– A study by the University of British Colombia found that participation in extra-curricular activities led to higher levels of optimism and a greater sense of peer belonging, which helped to improve overall mental health outcomes.

– A CIPD survey has shown that 67% of employers report better employability skills among young people who have taken part in volunteering.

Speaking to Sky News, HRH The Earl of Wessex, said:
“For so many, their academic careers have been completely disrupted and thrown into chaos…the longer term impact is going to be immense. At the end of the day we’re talking about what we can give young people that’s really going to help them in the future…how they are going to be ready for the world. And that’s not just about academics.

“The role of nonformal [learning] in this present climate is going to be even more important than ever before because it’s those skills and experiences which are going to be looked for. It’s that sense of achievement that young people desperately need. They need to feel that they’ve really accomplished something and that’s really important for their own self-confidence and their own self-belief.”

Ruth Marvel, CEO of the DofE, said:
“Young people have had their lives turned upside down by the pandemic. Academic catch-up is important but alone it’s not enough to help young people recover. We need a two-pronged catch-up approach that combines both academic and extracurricular learning to help young people progress at school and regain their sense of normality. One won’t work without the other.”

Throughout the pandemic, the DofE charity has continued to support hundreds of thousands of young people across the UK to challenge themselves, have fun and build their mental health and resilience by doing their DofE. It also launched its Resilience Fund to support over 12,000 people from disadvantaged backgrounds do the DofE programme.

In 2019-20, more than 295,00 young people began their DofE, 25% of whom were facing disadvantage.