Government guidelines which recommend children are physically active for seven hours a week are today thrown in to the spotlight as a survey of 2000 parents highlights that many primary school children rely on after school clubs for their activity yet still fall short of this target.
The research, commissioned by school club experts, Clubs for Schools, reveals that 40% of primary aged children do the majority of their physical activity through extra-curricular clubs. Worryingly, however, on average children only do 2.5 hours a week of physical activity in these clubs and nearly 1 in 5 (18%) are not doing any physical exercise in a club at all. Nonetheless, an overwhelming majority of parents (76%) believe that extra-curricular clubs are vital in maintaining children’s health and wellbeing.
One possible barrier to greater participation in more sports related activities, as highlighted by the research, is the overall cost. The survey shows that over 40% of parents are paying in excess of £200 per child each school year, whilst a fifth pay a staggering £100 or more each term for activities outside of the school day!
Michael Ledzion, who founded both Clubs for Schools and its sister organisation, Sports for Schools, warns that this research highlights a worrying issue that needs addressing urgently. He comments:
“The vital contribution that extra-curricular activities play in ensuring young people are active and healthy is clear. However, the fact that there is still insufficient physical activity taking place, possibly because of lack of choice or the associated cost, highlights a very serious issue.
“We need to adopt a ‘whole system’ approach to managing children’s health and ensure a focus on tackling the ever-widening health inequality between rich and poor. Making exercise more accessible and affordable to parents and supporting schools to offer more choice must, therefore, become a greater priority.”
The research also highlights the importance that parents place on extra-curricular activities when deciding on the overall quality of a school.
Over half of all parents (54%) state that the quality and number of extra-curricular clubs at a school is an important factor when selecting where to send their child; 70% believe a ‘good’ school will offer a wide variety of extra-curricular activities; and over a third (37%) would go as far as to consider moving their child if they felt the school didn’t offer a sufficient selection of such clubs.
Esther van Sluijs is the Programme Lead in Behavioural Epidemiology at Cambridge University and has contributed to NICE guidelines on promoting physical activity in young people. She adds:
“Extra-curricular clubs are an important opportunity for many children to take part in physical activity. They are also vital in offering children from all backgrounds opportunities to try different sports and activities which helps to instil lifelong activity habits. With this, they complement and support the learning and development during the school day. Whilst these clubs are a vital contributor to their overall health and well-being, they can also play an important role in developing social skills such as team work, support and respect for one another.”
The research also showcases the surprising demand for martial arts and cookery clubs as the top two most often wished for. Other in-demand clubs include: gymnastics, music, less well-known sports (volleyball, archery and fencing), foreign languages, athletics, computer coding and gaming, adventure sports (climbing, bouldering and orienteering), and increased one-to-one sports coaching.
Concluding on the research findings, Michael Ledzion says:
“When my long-time friend Matthew Wells and I founded Clubs for Schools, I did so knowing that extra-curricular activities bring true enrichment to the development of young children. Education is about so much more than just numeracy and literacy and physical education and other non-classroom activities have a strong link to brain development that cannot be underestimated.
“This research highlights the value that parents themselves also place on their children spending time in activities, of all kinds, outside of the main school day, and I hope will encourage more schools to evaluate their offer in this respect.”