This week’s ‘All Pupils, Every Ambition’ article has been guest-written by Fabienne Crocket, UK Cost of the School Day Practitioner at Child Poverty Action Group. In it, Fabienne explores the economic barriers some children face when it comes to accessing culturally enriching experiences, as well as how governors and schools can mitigate such inequality.

For many pupils, enrichment activities represent some of the most exciting and eye-opening aspects of the school experience. From museum storytelling workshops to robot-building classes, trips and guest-led sessions can bring learning to life. They ignite children’s imaginations and help build confidence and connections with other pupils. As one young person told us, “[trips] give you a chance to see what’s out there and actually think differently about the stuff you’re doing in your lessons.” But what if you can’t afford to take part in these activities?

Some enrichment opportunities – like a guest speaker coming into school – are free to students, and are a simple way to enhance every child’s learning experience. However, students growing up in poverty can be excluded from some activities if they come with a cost. Pupils have told us that this means not only missing out on a chance to extend learning, but also feeling stigmatised and isolated. When planning and monitoring enrichment activities, governors should consider the point of view of lower-income families to make sure no child is excluded from taking part.

Some costs are more obvious than others. Families tell us trips can be a significant financial pressure and sometimes prohibitively expensive. Similarly, music tuition is often unaffordable. But there are also hidden costs. For example, special cross-curricular days, which involve teaching combining different school subjects, sometimes require children to bring materials in at the last minute. The timing of activities can also be a barrier. For example, hosting activities after school means not all pupils can participate due to caring responsibilities or lack of access to transport.

Many schools already take a pragmatic approach to removing barriers to enrichment. In our work with schools in the London borough of Greenwich, we have seen lots of excellent practice. The leadership team in one secondary school has a strong vision for an enriching extended school day. Once a week, department leads work together to plan curriculum-enhancing activities like learning about the environment and magic. This is planned into the school budget at no cost to students, and everyone takes part.

Leaders in another Greenwich school have strategically forged relationships with funders so they can offer free music tuition to interested students. In one small primary school, the leadership monitored pupils’ access to clubs and took steps to remove potential barriers. Clubs are now run for free at lunchtime, with no kit needed. There is a range of activities on offer, including sports clubs and wellbeing-related activities, such as a mindfulness club.

School governing boards should consider the following recommendations:

  • Plan your enrichment activities with affordability and accessibility in mind. Wherever possible, remove or minimise charges for activities.
  • Monitor attendance of all enrichment activities, both compulsory and non-compulsory, and identify patterns in non-attendance.
  • Develop strategic relationships with funders and local businesses to boost funds for enrichment activities, and help subsidise or remove costs for families.
  • Build enrichment in to the core curriculum so opportunities are not just as an extra.

Governors should also ask school leaders:

  • How much does it cost families to participate in enrichment activities at our school over the course of the year?
  • Who is taking part in enrichment activities and who is missing out? How frequently is this monitored? How does uptake of enrichment opportunities vary across different groups in school, including those eligible for pupil premium and free school meals?
  • What support is offered to families with the cost of enrichment activities?
  • What does our charging and remissions policy include about the cost of enrichment activities?
  • How does our curriculum planning ensure that all children access enrichment opportunities?
  • How do we know what our pupils and parents think of the enrichment on offer at our school?

School should be an enriching experience for every child. Governors and school leaders can work together to ensure that cost is not a barrier to participating in exciting opportunities for those pupils from families with less money.

Passionate about tackling social inequality and boosting opportunities for young people? Consider governance!

As Fabienne’s article demonstrates, becoming a governor is a great way to help reduce inequalities in education. What’s more, it’s quick and easy to register your interest in volunteering on our website. We also encourage you to share this article with any friends and family members who may be interested in governance opportunities.