Research Centre for Learning and Teaching


Out of School Activities and the Education Gap

There is a wide gap in educational achievement between UK rich and poor children and ways to close it are being sought. One hypothesis is that increasing clubs and activities children take part in outside school would help to raise their attainment.


Ongoing research by a team from Newcastle University and NatCen indicates that the activities children and young people take part in after the school bell has rung can indeed help some children in some circumstances to do better educationally. It is hoped that using a theory of change framework will help us to explain why after school activities might be important.

Description of activities

We are analysing data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) to ascertain what activities some 7,000 children have taken part in, and linking that to their attainment records on the National Pupil Database. A range of statistical techniques are being used to look for patterns in how children spend their time and the activities they are involved in, and to find out whether and how this is related to their attainment.

We want to see if this varies for different children based on factors such as socio-economic group, gender, and ethnicity. We are also testing the idea that disadvantaged children benefit to a greater extent than others from out of school activities. In addition to the statistical analysis we have collected qualitative data from head teachers, parents, pupils and activity providers in eight schools situated in the North East and South East of England.

If such a link between out of school activities and attainment exists, we need to find out the process or mechanism by which the link happens for some children, and in which circumstances.

Our research has 3 stages. First, we conducted a literature search for possible theories of change that might explain the benefits and dis-benefits of out of school activities for young people and specifically for attainment. We presented these theories to academics and to providers of activities to ensure that they made sense from the point of view of both research and practice expertise.

Next, we are using the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) and National Pupil Database (NPD) to explore quantitative links between how children (including those who are economically disadvantaged) spend their time and their attainment.

Finally, we are gathering qualitative data from interviews with head teachers, activity providers, parents and children which seeks to evidence possible theories of change that might explain links between how children spend their time and attainment.

Aims and objectives

This Nuffield Foundation funded research is looking into how children aged 5-11 spend their time outside school and the links between this and their educational achievement.

Project website:


For further information contact:

Liz Todd, Professor of Educational Inclusion
Telephone: 0191 208 6572