How to Close the education gap for disadvantaged children

There are around 2.75 million disadvantaged children living in the UK (coming from households with an income below 60 per cent of the median). We strongly believe that every child should have the chance to reach their potential, but there’s an education gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children; in 2012, 34 per cent of pupils on free school meals (available to families receiving certain benefits, such as income support) achieved five good GCSEs, compared with 62 per cent of better-off pupils. This limits children’s prospects for continuing on to further education, and ultimately their career opportunities, as they get older.

In one year, children spend just 1,235 hours in school compared with 7,525 hours out of school, so it’s no surprise that what children spend their time doing outside school has such a large impact. Research funded by the Nuffield Foundation presented at a seminar this month has taken a look at activities children might take part in outside of school, and provided support for the benefits these activities can have for children, looking at economically disadvantaged families in particular.

Can out of school activities close the education gap?


Dr Emily Tanner, (head of the Children, Families and Work Team at NatCen Social Research) and Professor Liz Todd (Professor of Educational Inclusion) led the team at Newcastle University and found that attendance at after school clubs at age 11 was significantly related to children’s attainment in Key Stage 2 Maths and English. Disadvantaged children who did not attend an after school club were five points below advantaged children, while disadvantaged children who did attend were three points below – this seems like a small amount but is the equivalent of two-fifths of the attainment gap.

Being part of an after school club was also significantly linked to better social skills, showing that these activities may contribute to better development all-round. Soft skills like this are important for school and are valuable abilities to have, so may be interlinked with academic attainment too, and although there was no evidence presented for this it would be interesting to know whether the effect found is due to soft skills such as this.

Getting disadvantaged children to participate in out of school activities

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Disadvantaged children are outweighed by advantaged children across many out of school activities, with a dramatic difference in those taking music lessons (six per cent of disadvantaged, compared with 26 per cent of advantaged children). However, breakfast and after school clubs have a more equal distribution, showing that these are the most accessible for disadvantaged children.

Case study interviews with staff, pupils, providers and parents have identified the following key themes that make after school clubs particularly appealing:

  • Affordability – many clubs are free or very low-cost compared with other activities, such as music tuition
  • Convenience – attending a club on the school site avoids the time and cost of travelling, particularly for parents who are working or have limited access to transport
  • Familiarity – parents felt more comfortable knowing the environment and staff

Schools are provided with pupil premium funding, worth up to £1,900 per child, to help raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. This can be used however the school feels will be most effective, and given the benefits to children and the accessibility of after school clubs, these stand out as a good investment for this premium. 





Tanner, E., Chanfreau, J., Callanan, M., Laing, K., Paylor, J., Skipp, A. and Todd, L. (2016). Can out of school activities close the education gap? (Briefing Paper 4). Accessed at


Photo Credit: 

Scout by greg westfall licensed under CC BY 2.0



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