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Dr Felicity Wikeley
Dr Felicity Wikeley
Dr Kate Bullock
Dr Kate Bullock

Press Release - 07 September 2007

Lack of money keeps poorer children from out-of-school activities, says research

Children from poorer families do not take part in organised out-of-school activities as much as their more affluent classmates because of financial difficulties, a new study shows.

The children are put off by the fees and costs of equipment for activities such as sports, youth and drama clubs, and by the difficulties of getting to the activities, the research from the University of Bath says.

The authors of the study, Educational Relationships Outside School, part of a larger research project from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published today (Friday, September 7), say that these children have just as much social interaction within their families and play with friends as often as other children.

But not being able to take part in organised activities means that they miss out on a chance to relate to adults in a less formal environment than school.

Many of the organisers of out-of-school activities are teachers, and children from poorer families may not get the chance to interact with them in the less formal social setting. This interaction would help them to develop better relationships with teachers in school, the researchers believe.

The researchers interviewed 55 children aged 11 to 14 in three secondary and two primary schools in the West Country to compare out-of-school activities in urban and rural settings. Of the 55 children, 25 were in receipt of free school meals, which are only available if their families are claiming state benefits, and 30 were not.

“It wasn’t that children receiving free school meals weren’t interested in joining organised activities, it’s just that their families couldn’t afford them to do so,” said Dr Felicity Wikeley, of the University of Bath’s Department of Education, who led the research.

“One girl wanted to join a tennis club to learn to play tennis, but her family couldn’t afford the fees – all they could offer her was a bat and ball to play in their garden.

“And it is not just the club fees - accessing activities can be difficult if families don’t have a car or bus fares are high, especially in rural areas.

“Taking part in organised activities is important because it helps children to understand that learning with adults does not always involve the authority figure they see at school.

“In the out-of-school activities the adults are often seen as role models and co-learners and this helps the young people understand why rules are necessary for the activity to work well. The young people also get a chance to make a real contribution to the activity rather than being told what to do, which is how they see their school experiences.

“This improves their behaviour - because they and the adults choose to attend the activity the children see it as a shared opportunity to learn.

“Organised activities give children a chance to understand how to work with adults and negotiate the learning processes. Children from more affluent families who attend lots of different clubs and activities become adept at doing this but children of poorer families miss out.”

The report advocates increased spending by government so that all families regardless of income can benefit from such activities. It also recommends that the government, which wants to develop children’s social activities, encourage activities to be organised in places other than schools, particularly for teenagers, who like to separate their life outside school.

Dr Wikeley worked with Dr Kate Bullock and Dr Yolande Muschamp, from the Department of Education, and Dr Tess Ridge from the Department of Social & Policy Sciences at the University of Bath.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, Experiences of poverty and educational disadvantage, draws upon research carried out by eight UK groups, including Bath.

The University of Bath is one of the UK's leading universities, with an international reputation for quality research and teaching. View a full list of the University's press releases: