Research has shown poorer children are educationally almost 13 months behind their wealthier peers by the time they sit GCSEs. The implication of such academic underachievement, combined with other health and social inequalities, has far reaching implications for both the individual and wider society.
With concerns around school funding, is it time we look beyond the school gates for alternative ways of reducing educational inequality?
Late last year we published the results of Sporteducate, a landmark education programme run in partnership with Deutsche Bank’s Born to Be youth engagement programme that used sport to engage disadvantaged young people in educational activities outside of the classroom. Over the three-and-a-half years, the programme engaged over 2,000 young people from some of London’s most deprived communities.
The results (based on a comprehensive analysis of 878 pre-programme surveys and 718 post-programme young people surveys, completed by EdComs) provided much needed hard-evidence of the impact of both the use of sport, AND the role of supplementary education in a community setting, for improving academic achievement.
The full Sporteducate Programme Evaluation Report containing all the results can be downloaded here, but some stand-out highlight stats include:
• More young people enjoy learning (increasing from 61 to 81%)
• More young people are performing at a ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent’ level at school (increasing from 70 to 87%)
• 57% of young people report improved behaviour at school
• More young people think a future career is important (increasing from 78 to 94%)
The success of the programme’s model of using community sport groups to deliver supplementary education sessions is attributable to a number of factors:
Sport is the hook
Few mediums have the power to capture and retain the attention of young people than sport. So in some ways it’s the metaphorical ‘Carrot and Stick’. The draw of sport – the ‘Carrot’ in other words – should not be underestimated, after all Sporteducate was developed to engage young people at the highest risk of becoming NEET. So having pupils who may have given up on their educations in school to voluntarily attend an out-of-school education session is no mean feat! Something that all 33 groups on the programme should be applauded for.
The voluntary aspect of attendance is also very important as it promotes an important psychological shift in the mindsets of the young people. It puts the responsibility to learn in their own-hands and gives them a sense of empowerment, control and ownership that they may otherwise feel they lack in a traditional classroom setting.
Sporteducate’s results also demonstrates that playing sport develops a host of transferable soft skills which benefit young people back in the classroom, such as building self-esteem, team-work and verbal communication skills.
Trusted environment and respected staff
Introducing education sessions into the trusted and neutral environments of, for example, a community centre or youth club can be enough for young people to leave the ‘playground bravado’ at the door and give them the breathing space to concentrate on their work. The fact that the club leaders, staff and coaches are role models for these young people, and there’s the ever-present ‘stick’ (i.e. restricting access to the sport – the initial primary reason for their attendance) should they misbehave, helps to keep minds focused.
Community groups in general also offer a channel to reach some of the most marginalised young people, who could all too easily fall through the cracks of support services. This is due to the combination of the use of sport as the hook, their trusted environment and their actual physical locations in areas of high deprivation.
Longevity of support
Behavioural change in young people takes times. It’s one of the primary reasons why, more generally, all Sported’s members are so successful at what they do – they are there for the young people, every week, come rain or shine. The same principle applied to Sporteducate. The long-term nature of the support (3.5 years) given by Sported and Deutsche Bank to both the young people and the groups, meant real progress could be made and positive behaviours rewarded and reinforced.
The length of the programme also gave the club leaders the benefit of having time to embed their respective programmes into their day-to-day operations. For a lot of the clubs, it was the first time such education sessions had been introduced, and as you would expect with such things, there was often quite a steep learning curve. The length of the programme meant the clubs could adapt and optimise their programmes according to the young people’s needs, preferences and challenges.
So what’s next?
The results of Sporteducate show that with the right resources and support, the use of sport and community groups can have a positive impact on young people’s education across a range of measures (Attitudes to learning, Academic Achievement, Aspirations, Attendance, and Aptitude). However, it would be misplaced to imply that Sporteducate’s Theory of Change and engagement model is somehow that elusive ‘Silver bullet’. Rather, it should be viewed as a piece of the jigsaw of a wider, holistic range of interventions (e.g. counselling/mentoring, access to improve career advice and work experience placements, physical exercise) that should be aimed at supporting young people who unfairly bear the brunt of social inequalities.
To help other community groups develop and launch their own Sport for Development programme, we have used the learning from Sporteducate to create a free Toolkit, packed full of information and tips. Whilst Sporteducate focused on education provision through community groups, there’s no reason why the learning can’t be applied more widely, for example by schools and funding programmes as part of the Pupil Premium.
Finally, we would encourage any community group looking to run education programmes to review our Programme Evaluation, as you may well be able to use some of the findings in supporting material for your own funding applications.