Cash-strapped parents pull plug on youngsters’ after-school activities

Parents hit by the economic downturn have been forced to cut down significantly on their offspring’s after-school activities, reveals a new survey by Save the Children.  But what impact will this have on children’s development and learning? looks at the consequences.

How much are children now missing out?

Almost two thirds (62%) of parents of youngsters aged four to 18 have now been forced to stop their children from taking part in after-school activities because they can’t afford it.  The YouGov poll commissioned by Save the Children revealed the figure rose to nearly three quarters (74%) among parents who are living below the poverty line.  The results of the survey come at an already expensive time of the year for parents when they have recently forked out for school uniform and back-to-school accessories.

Do out-of-school activities affect learning in school?
Definitely, says Sally Copley, head of UK policy at Save the Children.  ”What happens after the school gates close at 3pm is just as vital as what goes on in the school day,” she said. ”Children who do after-school activities have more confidence, see the world in different ways, have a stronger sense of identity – and this ultimately translates into doing better in exams and getting a better job.  We’re particularly concerned poorer children are missing out as a result.”
Nearly half of the parents who pay for activities (49%) said they shelled out over £10 per child per week – the equivalent of £500 a year or £7,500 over a school lifetime.  More than a fifth (22%) said they were paying out over £20 a week.
Activities out of school are thought to help increase social mobility.  Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation claims that only 14% of achievement can be put down to what goes on during school lessons.
”Research shows clearly that out-of-school activities are not just an ‘optional extra’, but an important part of children’s education and development,” says Donald Hirsch, from Loughborough University’s Centre for Research in Social Policy. ”The evidence is that children with such experience also approach school learning in a more positive way.”

What activities do children like doing?
Sport was the most popular pastime with nearly half (48%) of all parents saying their offspring did some type of sporting activity.  Team games such as football, cricket, hockey and netball give children social skills in working together in a common aim and promote concentration and focus – passing the ball to another team member to give them the chance to score encourages unselfish behaviour for the common good.  Leadership skills also benefit.  Physically, youngsters get fit, and studies have claimed more active children do better in lessons.
Drama and dance were the second most popular activity (19%), while music (16%) and Brownies/Scouts (18%) were also high in the list.
Razzamataz Theatre Schools, the part-time performing arts franchise, has backed the benefits of after-school activities for children and is now offering a number of scholarships to enable children from less well off backgrounds to participate in the theatre arts.
Denise Hutton-Gosney, founder and director of Razzamataz, said: ”Building up a child’s confidence and self-esteem is a big part of what we do at Razzamataz.  As well as improving health and fitness, participation in the theatre arts has been shown to benefit children in many different areas as they acquire life and performance skills. Theatre-trained individuals are identified as having transferable skills such as good interviewing technique – massively important for older children in the job market which additionally teaches self-discipline and the ability to work as a team.
”We appreciate that the cost of bringing up children today is immense.  By offering these scholarships we are hoping to give children the chance to benefit from so many positive aspects of the performing arts.  Physical fitness levels are increased, positive mental attitudes are supported and confidence and self-esteem produce a definable inner light and sense of achievement.”

Provision of activities set to get worse
More after-school activity clubs could be forced to close when the comprehensive spending review is published on October 20th – local authorities often give grants towards after hours activities, but they could be curtailed in the spending cuts.
Save the Children has urged:
* A £3,000 pupil premium for every poor child to help fund after-school catch-up lessons and study support
* The Government to protect extended school funding such as area-based grants, the disadvantaged subsidy and the school standards fund
* Investment in parenting programmes and activities for children in the most deprived areas

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