The importance of Extra Curricular initiatives in schools and how can we use them to close the gap between secondary and higher education

By Charles Latuske NQT History teacher and History Degree Event Co-ordinator

What I want to try to achieve from this blog post, is not to negate, ignore, or even criticise an already existing model of extra-curricular set up within schools, but to show how the initiatives might be viewed in another way, with a varied purpose in mind. Whatever these initiatives are — whether they are from Chess Club to after school sport initiatives, do a fantastic job at raising school involvement, giving PP students higher esteem and aspirations and generally do a deal of good for improving the ethos of the wider school community.

‘What is the purpose an extra-curricular initiative (ECI)?’ I can hear the demand from the reader as I type these words.

The purpose and proposal I want to examine is this: How can we use and utilize ECI’sto look to bridge the gap between higher education institutions and secondary schools.  There is currently very little research regarding the impact on ECI’s in school and the educational benefits of them. However, Boaz Shulruf, Associate Professor of Medical and Health sciences at Auckland University has begun a study of psycho-educational assessment in higher education and the positive effects it has on the outcomes of students. His rationale is:

“Secondary schools tend to sponsor a large number of extra-curricular activities yet little is known about their contribution to students’ educational outcomes. This meta-analysis aims to determine what it is about ECA participation that supports positive educational outcomes. Furthermore, this study challenges the theoretical assumptions about the benefits of participation in ECA.”

I want to focus this on three keys areas, namely: how to build this proposed extra-curricular initiative across a number of subject areas outside of just my own, what the difficulties or challenges of this might be and what are the benefits? Is this time and effort going to be worth it given all the challenges teaching in modernity faces?

How do we build this proposed ECI and what might it look like?

One of the reasons I began to conceptualise this idea back in my training year was largely down to two reasons. Firstly, I realised I was often working with students who displayed a high calibre of proficiency in the subject area. The subject material and the teaching challenged the students, however concepts were often over looked or not explored in depth. Key concepts that would inform any future basis for an Historian studying any modern History, needs to know the detail and the nuances of, say, Communism, Fascism and Nationalism. However, due to time constraints, in addition to, presumably, the fact that it is clearly not the exam boards’ focus either, we did not cover them in any meaningful way. The fact that an epoch, mired in hostility, that is formulated by an acute divergence in ideology (I am of course referring to the Cold War) is taught with nothing more than a cursory, or superficial skimming of the surface of the ideologies or socio-economic systems that inform the crux of that specific conflict, is, and remains; an anathema to me.

I also reflected on my own time in education. The transition from secondary to college was not an easy task in itself. Fresh from the ebullience of successful GCSE results, I found the step up at first quite difficult. One of the main issues or challenges I faced at college was the introduction of reference into my work. A similar trend when I went to university occurred as well. And on that point, it is just as astounding that so much of the subject of history when taken on to higher education, revolved still around historiography. While I completely understand why this isn’t covered across many History main curriculum areas across the country, or in any detail, if it is. However, this leads me to ask my next question: Can the ECI be modelled around the skills students would require at the next academic level (for example, an introduction to historiography)? And how can you use varied academic texts to help inform and develop students writing? (This could inform the basis of your ECI conceptstudents learn, in preparation for higher education.)

In my own place of work I am looking to develop, an albeit minimalistic and far more tailored and led, example of what History could look like for students at university should they go on to make that academic choice in their futures. The format of which follows as outlined below:

The History Degree Event course: “Did socialism truly exist in the USSR?”

Monday (pm) after school – Lecture: ‘’An introduction to ideologies, socio-economic systems and Marx’s theory of development’’

This is with or without PowerPoint should it be required — which is a stream of essentially rote pedagogy, with keynote taking the primary function. These notes are then used to supplement the set reading for that week which will inform the seminar session also outlined below.

Wednesday (Lunch) – Seminar: Reading “The Communist Manifesto”, K Marx, F Engels – focus question for discussion: ‘’what are Marx and Engels trying to achieve, what is communism?’’

This session is student led — but refereed by myself, providing occasional prompts and direction should discussion falter – it is essentially an advanced academic discussion on what has been conceptualised by the students from what they have read.

This process is then followed for the duration of the course that wends its way to giving them the context and skills required to answer the question could be 8-10 weeks longer or shorter depending on time constraints or any other external factors. The culmination of which is then:

Dissertation titled ‘Did socialism truly exist during the USSR’? 1500-2000 words

Viva: Oral defence of thesis which is submitted prior and presented in front of a panel of three academics (any teachers of your choice although esteemed academic guests from colleges or local universities will be an excellent coup). 10-15 minutes’ speech time.

I have run this course previously and the student response was of a very high standard. The participants had developed advanced skills of writing, speaking and begun to explore comparing concepts, referencing different academics to reinforce their own theories through their work. Granted, this last point was not a success in totality, but it is in fact one of the reasons why we do not explore it in the main body of our subject specific curricula. It is advanced, tough and often hard work to master. However, the success was that these students can advance to their next stop of academic education and have been introduced to these academic skills. The essay, properly written will not be alien to them, but can be tweaked instead. Time spent improving rather than learning new skills is a powerful position to be in when you are only at your next educational institution for two years rather than five. You need to learn quickly.

What could this concept look like in another curricular area – is it just arts or history specific?

I am acutely aware there may be call or even exclamations along the lines of ‘well that’s well and good for History, but what about my subject area?’ That’s a valid question and one I want to attempt to answer by making this suggestion.

Our role as pedagogues has been underpinned by higher academic study. Whether we study quantum physics, international relations, tourism, wine tasting or even…David Beckham studies, we have inevitably undertaken a course that has helped to promote higher order skills in those subject areas.

I have merely modelled this degree course in microcosm on my own course of War, Conflict and Modernity. Even that in itself was so large that this is just a tiny morsel of what I experienced myself at University, however I have just emulated the pattern I followed: Lecture – Reading – Seminar, which is repeated until completion. The content, yes, has largely been taken from some areas of the course I undertook during my undergraduate study but this structure could be inputted with whatever content you want the students to cover.

I am aware that I am yet to outline what this concept might look like within another curriculum area, so I have chosen to produce a concept design in the subject of physical education, both a practical and theory based subject.

Having not studied Sport science in any capacity, I need a model or precedence with which to base my framework on. I have chosen to use an institution that historically has great ties with the subject of sport science – Loughborough University and their course ‘Sport and Exercise Science BSc (Hons)’

Loughborough’s course looks at the following modules (I have just outlined three so as to become too puerile)

  • Foundation of sports and exercise psychology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Introduction to sport biomechanics and kinesiology

If we take the first course topic on the list – “Foundation of sports and exercise psychology” we can put that immediately into the Lecture – Reading – Seminar model.

Monday (pm) afterschool – Lecture: “Introduction to Sport psychology and the problems of Gender and sexuality” (for example)

Wednesday (Lunch) – Seminar Reading: Negotiating Gender and Sexuality: A Qualitative Study of Elite Women Boxer Intersecting Identities and Sport Psychology Implications” K McGannon

This process could be followed until the course allows the prospective students to answer the concept questions which could be something along the lines of

Dissertation: ‘’How far is psychology implicit in the creating a gender bias across sport’’ (I am sure it would be a much more enlightened course proposal but hopefully you get the gist) with completed viva defending the thesis question, as modelled above.

One could even look to develop this further if there is an opportunity to gain access to resources and facilities. For example, sports scientists undertaking their undergraduate degree at Loughborough use and explore the Sports Lab.

Sports Lab: If there is a gym or training facilities at school can a sports lab be set-up and run, even if this only serves as an introduction, the familiarization could prove invaluable to students but also really serve to promote and embed the choice in students that this is a pathway they want to pursue.

What potential problems could one encounter in trying to establish an effective ECI?

I have largely explored some problems throughout this piece. However, there are the age-old problems that may inhibit an effective launch of ECI in schools, such as:

  • Teacher time within the department – many in the department could have additional TLR’s or responsibilities, so where does the time come from to implement this?
  • Money, funding or costs incurred could prove a challenge – even for something as innocuous as books required for participating students, fees to secure facilities etc (education budgets certainly don’t seem to be getting any more generous, anytime soon!)
  • Student interest or uptake may be an issue (although if well-constructed there will always be students who want to experience this kind of course and develop their skills and learning – however apathy and increased pressure on students remains a nationwide issue).

Conclusion:

These skills are important to our students going forward in their academic career.

Whilst I am under no illusion that time is a scarce commodity amongst the teaching fraternity, an initiative built to provide some success and confidence for our leavers going onto higher education can be invaluable.

Often, secondary schools look at providing incentives and aspirations to students who may otherwise look to turn their backs on education. Indeed, looking at dropout rate figures for students going from secondary schools to higher education institutes is staggering. Statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show 26,000students across the UK dropped out of their first year of university in 2018. Of course this will be for a myriad of reasons both common and rare but one thing we can be sure of is that some of these drop out students will just not have been prepared enough for the rigour of university academic life and discipline.

Perhaps these could be the effects that Shulruf alludes to in his study mentioned at the very beginning of this piece. Perhaps some of the benefits that he discusses in his participation of ECI’s at schools are simple. Perhaps, it is a simple factor that will keep more students in university in their first year: Preparedness.

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