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Out of school activities improve children’s educational attainment, study reveals

20 April 2016 | Tags: children and young people, education, school

Participating in organised sports and joining after school clubs can help to improve primary school children’s academic performance and social skills, new research shows. 

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, researchers from NatCen Social Research, Newcastle University and ASK Research analysed information on more than 6,400 English children born in 2000-01 who are being followed by the Millennium Cohort Study. 

Children taking part in organised sports and physical activities at the ages of 5, 7 and 11 were almost one and a half times more likely to reach a higher than expected level in their Key Stage 2 (KS2) maths test at age 11. No relationship was found between organised sports and activities and KS2 English and science scores. 

Among disadvantaged children, those who attended after school clubs also fared better than their peers who did not take part in such groups. They achieved on average, a 2-point higher total score in their KS2 assessments in English, maths and science at the end of primary school. 

This is equivalent to two-fifths of the ‘attainment gap’ between poorer children who score, on average, a total of 53 points at KS2 and those from more affluent homes, who gain 58 points. 

The study’s lead investigator, Dr Emily Tanner, of NatCen, said: “Results showed that sports clubs were positively associated with attainment outcomes at age 11, even when accounting for prior attainment at age 7. 

“For children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, who have lower take-up of formal out of school activities, school-based clubs appear to offer an affordable and inclusive means of supporting academic attainment.”

From the ages of 5-11, formal sports club activity was dominated by children from more well-off families. This peaked at age 7 with almost 4 out of 5 taking part, compared to only 2 out of 5 of those from poorer homes.  

In comparison, roughly equal numbers of children from both backgrounds were involved in after school clubs at ages 5, 7 and 11.

The researchers also discovered that children who participated in organised sports and physical activities at any time during primary school had better social, emotional and behavioural skills than those who did not take part.  

This was also the case for disadvantaged children who had attended an after school club during primary school, compared with other poorer children who had never joined one.  

The findings took into account background factors such as child gender, ethnicity, age and family structure, as well as parental income and occupational class.  

Dr Tanner said: “The recent Budget announcement to direct money raised by the tax on sugary drinks towards funding sport and after school activities suggests policymakers are recognising the wide-ranging benefits of these activities. 

“After school clubs, based on school premises, seem to be an easy vehicle for policymakers and educators to ensure that children have access to both the core curriculum and wider enriching activities.”  

‘Out of school activities during primary school and KS2 attainment’ by Emily Tanner, Jenny Chanfreau, Meg Callanan, Karen Laing, Amy Skipp and Liz Todd is the latest working paper from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS). It will be available online from the CLS website at 00.01 hours on Wednesday 20th April 2016. Advance copies of the paper can be made available to journalists on request.


The full paper is available here.

For more information contact Leigh Marshall:  0207 549 8506 or 07828 031850.

Notes for editors

1. The study’s authors have defined disadvantaged children as those whose family income was below the poverty line (below 60% of the median equivalised household income) in at least two of the three MCS interviews during primary school.

2.  The Millennium Cohort Study is following 19,000 young people born across the UK in 2000-01, building a uniquely detailed portrait of the children of the new century. The study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and a consortium of government departments, and managed by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the UCL Institute of Education. Visit

3. NatCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.

4. Newcastle University is a Russell Group University and is ranked in the top 1% of universities in the world (QS World University Rankings 2014). We are ranked 16th in the UK for global research power (REF 2014) and 22nd in The Sunday Times 2015 Good University Guide. Amongst our peers, Newcastle is joint 6th in the UK for student satisfaction student experience and teaching quality. We have a world-class reputation for research excellence and are spearheading three major societal challenges that have a significant impact on global society. These themes are: ageing, sustainability, and social renewal.

5. The Nuffield Foundation is an endowed charitable trust that aims to improve social well-being in the widest sense. It funds research and innovation in education and social policy and also works to build capacity in education, science and social science research. The Nuffield Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation. 

6. The UCL Institute of Education is a world-leader specialising in education and the social sciences. Founded in 1902, the Institute currently has more than 7,000 students and 800 staff. In the 2014 and 2015 QS World University Rankings, the Institute was ranked number one for education worldwide. It was shortlisted in the ‘University of the Year’ category of the 2014 Times Higher Education (THE) awards. In January 2014, the Institute was recognised by Ofsted for its ‘outstanding’ initial teacher training across primary, secondary and further education. In the most recent Research Excellence Framework, 94 per cent of our research was judged to be world class. On 2 December 2014, the Institute became a single-faculty school of UCL, called the UCL Institute of Education.

7. University College London (UCL) was founded in 1826. We were the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to open up university education to those previously excluded from it, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world's top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. UCL currently has over 35,000 students from 150 countries and over 11,000 staff. Our annual income is more than £1 billion. | Follow us on Twitter @uclnews | Watch our YouTube channel