In England, if you are pupil receiving free school meals (FSM) you are three-times less likely to achieve five or more A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths, than your non-FSM counterpart.
Indeed, deprivation – as measured by free school meal allocation – is strongly associated with poorer academic performance at every Key Stage.
Given the clear links between academic performance and wealth, and the fact that poor educational attainment corresponds with reduced employment opportunities, there is a strong argument that far more educational support needs to be given to young people from disadvantaged communities to arrest this perpetual cycle.
So what can be done and, more specifically, what role does sport have to play in all of this?
Research has found that, by Year 9, 35 per cent of pupils are either ‘disengaged from school not education’ or ‘disengaged’ altogether, rising to 45 per cent in Year 10 and 11 respectively. Such pupils typically dislike school, have much lower aspirations, and are more likely to skip classes and play truant.
According to the same report, some of the factors that appear to make a difference include information and guidance, homework supervision, extra curricula activity, study support, quality of the relationship with teachers and reducing bullying.
It is in these areas where sport, or more specifically sports-led education programmes, could play a major role.
As the name suggests, when we talk about sports-led education programmes we refer to programmes that combine playing sport with education. An example is our own Sporteducate programme, in which we are funding 33 clubs in London for a three-year period to develop and run educational sessions alongside their core sport offering. For example, core curriculum supplementary classes, non-curriculum supplementary classes and homework clubs.
At its heart, sport-led education programmes have so much potential to enhance academic attainment, attitudes and aspirations because they address one of the fundamental challenges – how do you reach disengaged young people outside of traditional education routes?
It starts with having a powerful enough incentive; namely, playing the sport you love in the safe and supportive environment of your local community club.
Sports-led education programmes may look like a simple ‘carrot and stick’ rewards model, but behind this lays powerful psychological drivers. None more so than the empowerment it offers young people over their education and future.
It should be remembered that these programmes are 100 per cent voluntary. This self-referral mechanism means young people take personal ownership and responsibility of their learning outcomes, which makes it an enormously powerful educational tool.
The fact that lessons take place in a familiar community setting outside of the school gates (i.e. in a local sports club), not only means that you have an established channel which to reach young people, but also the learning dynamic is very different.
While it would be misleading to imply that every young person behaves perfectly and the traditional teacher-pupil challenges are not present, the discipline instilled by the group leaders, combined with the threat of not being able to participate in the sporting activity – the primary reason for their attendance – is enough to foster a positive learning environment.
This is further reinforced by the increased personal attention the teacher is able to afford to each young person. Indeed, supplementary classes in a community setting can simply help young people overcome the distractions and barriers to learning that they may face at school or at home, whether it’s distractions from classmates, siblings or things like TV or computer games.
The impact of ‘Sport for Development’ programmes on educational attainment, is highlighted in a special research project we commissioned in 2010. Sportworks, the resulting report, found that a young person participating in a Sport for Development project can reduce their risk of leaving school without any qualifications by 12.75 per cent.
In addition to these findings, there is strong anecdotal evidence that sport can help develop a range of soft skills that are transferable and beneficial to the classroom and workplace environment, including communication, leadership, teamwork, discipline and respect for authority.
It is a travesty in today’s age that we have young people in this country who are hungry to learn and eager to succeed in life, but are failing to fulfil their potential.
Whilst it would be wrong to suggest that sport is somehow “the silver-bullet” to a complex social problem, it is in society’s best interest that we examine new and alternative ways of raising educational attainment.
This article originally appeared at Telegraph.co.uk – ‘Can sport be used to raise educational attainment?’