Extra-curricular Activities

The extra-curricular activities, (sometimes known as enrichment activities), a school provides can make or break whether a student enjoys their time there.

  • Legally, all schools were required to become extended schools by September 2010. Extended schools have to provide a programme of extra-curricular activities between 8.00am and 6.00pm. If a school is only offering a few extra-curricular activities then this is a cause for concern.
  • Schools should provide some additional activities which are directly related to improving performance, for example revision sessions at Key Stage 3 and GCSE.
  • Schools that offer a variety of more creative extra activities, for example, a magazine club, a netball club, a debating club, indicate that they have a committed and enthusiastic staff. It is nearly always the case that teachers do these  kinds of extra-curricular activities in their own time, so their existence demonstrates a level of dedication and reveals a staff who enjoy spending time with young people.
  • The right school for your child should provide extra activities for students with a variety of needs. There should be extra-curricular provision for gifted and talented students, and those with special educational needs. Learning mentors might run a lunchtime games’ club, it could be that this club is for students who feel they don’t fit in anywhere else. If the special needs department runs a homework club, it will probably focus on those students who have difficulty with homework.
  • It is a good sign if a variety of departments provide extra-curricular activities. If it is just the PE department, then the school is providing only a basic expectation. If, however, clubs are run by most departments, there is obviously a whole school ethos of extending learning.
  • Classroom teaching must increasingly focus on preparing students for exams. However, it is often more creative activities, not directly related to the curriculum, which lead to students feeling more involved and committed. A school that provides activities that are not just strictly academic shows that it values educating the whole child.
  • Extra-curricular activities often help form friendship groups. They assist students in making connections with others beyond their tutor group, year group, or immediate peer group. A parent might look for a school with  strong extra-curricular provision, if they feel their child finds it difficult to form friendships. If a child chooses the right extra-curricular club, they could find like minded peers and make friends. For example, if a student was gifted and talented it is worth finding out what clubs are provided for the more able students.
  • There are some subject areas where extra-curricular provision is essential, for example PE, Music, and Drama.
  • If your child has a particular passion for a subject such as Drama, then the quality of extra-curricular provision could define their secondary school career. A student who loves writing could flourish at school if they were part of a successful school newspaper.
  • In most schools, lunchtimes and the end of the day are when incidents of poor behaviour tend to occur. A parent who is worried about their child getting involved in such incidents should look for a school which has extra-curricular provision to attract them during these key times.
  • If a school allows its students to go off site at lunchtime, and you would rather they stayed at school then find out what lunchtime activities take place.
  • specialist school there will be extra-curricular activities in the specialism.
  • More and more,  schools recruit outside providers to deliver extra-curricular activities, for example, a football club. Such organisations can support students who find relationships difficult with the school staff.
  • The right school for your child will have lots of events that enrich the core curriculum. For example, the English department might have visiting poets; the Citizenship department might have presenters from the emergency services; the Drama department might get in productions from theatre companies.Exposure from a variety of outside sources and opinions provides students with a richer experience of learning. A school that has a variety of provision within its school day is also a confident school. It trusts its students to behave well with adults other than their teachers.
  • In almost all cases, extra-curricular provision, trips, and the involvement of outside providers in curriculum enhancement are good things. However, a school should have systems in place for making sure that students’ participation is balanced. It is counter productive, for example, if a student does nothing but participate in Drama productions at the expense of their homework. It is no good if a student is a brilliantly disciplined football player, but never behaves in class. Some schools do not let Year 11 or 13 students participate in school productions in their last year of study to ensure they do not jeopardise their chances of exam success. Some schools will ban students from representing the school in sport, if they consistently disrupt in class.You should look for these checks and balances to ensure your child gets the most from their education.

 School Trips

  •  The right school for your child will provide a range of learning experiences that go beyond the classroom.Every child, no matter what their learning style will benefit from a variety of activities. It is therefore important to find out what trips are provided in all year groups not just Year 7.
  • If a school does not provide any trips then that is a cause for concern.
  • Schools have different attitudes to trips and their benefits. Some schools, for example, send each year group off to a theme park for the day in the summer. They justify this by saying that education is about rewards and relationships. Some schools,however, only run trips that they believe link directly with the curriculum.
  • Trips are hard work for staff. They require a lot of paperwork. If staff go on trips out of school hours, they do not get paid extra, and rarely get time in lieu. Schools that run trips then, have staff who are committed and enthusiastic enough to give extra effort and time.
  • On trips, the school is always on show. Schools that run a lot of trips are confident about the ability of their students to present themselves well in public.
  • If you ask a teenager or adult what they enjoyed most at school, they often say it was the trips. Trips can be excellent for developing relationships among students. Trips and extra-curricular provision are often spaces where staff and students form stronger bonds; relationships which make students feel more secure at their school and work harder for their teachers.
  • It is often children’s fear, innate conservatism and provincialism that hinder their academic achievement. They are afraid of the unfamiliar. They do not want to try new things.They often lack exposure to ideas that might help them improve their learning. A school that provides opportunities beyond the curriculum and the school gate breaks down these barriers to teaching, learning and social development.
  • A school that regularly offers expensive trips should have a support fund so that all students can access opportunities.

School Productions

  • It is worthwhile attending a school’s productions if you are interested in the school for your child.
  • If the production is well attended, that shows you that the school has active parental support.
  • The Parent Teacher Association will often organise refreshments. Talk to its representatives over coffee.
  • Usually, school students will attend the production, and you need to assess their behaviour and discipline as audience members. Look for students who are there to listen and not disrupt, and who want to give a good impression of their school. Teachers should be on hand to keep the audience in order as well as to supervise the production. It is a cause for concern if students are left to disrupt in the audience without intervention.
  • If there are a number of teachers involved in the production, and staff as members of the audience, then that is a sign of a committed staff. Look for a school where departments clearly work together. Good props, music, costumes and acting shows a school where there is collaboration between staff.
  • It is important that the event is well managed. Staff should be at the door welcoming guests and keeping students in control. It is a good sign if the Head teacher is present. On the last night, effusive speeches from the Head, teachers involved and students show a school which has a strong sense of community. If the Head teacher is absent, and there are very few staff in attendance, that could indicate a school where staff will not go that extra mile, and it may be that the Head teacher is not committed to all areas of the curriculum.
  • If the tickets sell out quickly, this indicates that the students and parents are involved and care about their school.
  • If the school holds no productions, this is a cause for concern.
  • If a rogue element turns up in the audience, students there to cause disruption, then that is a cause for concern. A similar element may be present in the school during lesson time.
  • If your child is keen on Drama, Music or Art, then the quality of the production is important.
  • The choice of production tells you something about the school. Some schools do a major musical every year. This tells you that the Arts departments work together. It may be important to some parents that school productions reflect the cultural diversity of their intake. Some schools take on serious pieces of drama, which reveals that the Drama department is ambitious and wishes to stretch students intellectually.
  • Do not be too judgemental about the quality of the actual singing or acting. If there are one or two outstanding performers, it could be that the school is lucky to have them in their cohort. If the students are involved,well rehearsed and enthusiastic these are good signs. Try to be aware how much the fondness of parenthood can create a gloss on the production for the audience.
  • If the production is under-rehearsed and badly acted this reflects on the commitment and ability of the Drama and/or Music department( s).
  • Some school productions are outstanding.This shows that the Arts are strong in the school. It can also tell you something about the school’s sense of scale. For example, some schools can stage a musical with a quality of staging, acting and music that is not very short of a professional production. This indicates that the school has ambition and a sense of its wider audience.
  • A Performing Arts specialist school should put on excellent productions.

 School Concerts

Similar principles apply to school concerts as dramatic productions.

  • The choice of content is often telling. For example, a school could make a particular effort to reflect the multi-cultural nature of its community through its choice of music.
  • A staff choir reveals commitment and loyalty to the school.
  • Sometimes a school can pay musicians or performers to bolster the performance. This can deceive the audience as to the quality of the school’s Music or Drama departments. It is important to ask a member of staff on duty if any non-school staff took part.
  • If the school puts on no concerts then this is a cause for concern.
  • A Performing Arts specialist school should put on excellent concerts.

Further Information

Open Evening

Ask each department what extra-curricular activities they carry out and how regularly these things happen. Ask what their recent concerts and productions have been. Look out for displays of recent productions, trips and extra-curricular events. Make sure you check the dates.

School Productions

Contact the school and ask for details of the next school concert or school production so you can attend. Contact the school and ask for a copy of school publications which feature school trips, for example, a calendar of events, a school year book, school newsletters.


Ask the student showing you round whether they take part in any extra-curricular activities, and whether most students do.

Case study


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