This page covers the first (efficacy) trial of Children's University, which tested whether it could work in schools under best possible conditions. To read about the second (effectiveness) trial - which tested a scalable model under everyday conditions in a large number of schools - click here.
Children’s University (CU) aims to improve the aspirations and attainment of pupils aged 5 to 14 by providing learning activities beyond the normal school day, such as after-school clubs, visits to universities and museums, and ‘social action’ opportunities such as volunteering in the community. In this project, children in Years 5 and 6 volunteered to take part and selected the activities they wished to attend. Participation was rewarded through credits, certificates and a ‘graduation’ event. The intervention evaluated here is one of two ‘youth social action’ projects jointly funded by the Education Endowment Foundation and the U.K. Cabinet Office.
Testing the impact of social action on young people’s engagement and attainment at school.
Character & essential skills
EEF funded this project to test whether extra-curricular activities, including social action, can help to improve pupil attainment and other attitudes and skills, such as motivation, confidence and team-working. There is a growing appetite to understand whether activities like these can promote improved outcomes, and there is also evidence that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are currently less likely to participate in these types of activities.
This trial found positive impacts on Key Stage 2 maths and reading results equivalent to about 2 months’ additional progress. Small improvements were also seen for a range of non-cognitive outcomes, such as teamwork, social responsibility, and aspirations. These results have moderate security, and further evaluation would be needed before we can be confident that the results apply to other schools, but they provide initial evidence that well-supported enrichment activities can improve children’s academic and non-cognitive outcomes.
Previous research suggests that the quality of activities, explicit links to learning, and recognition for children’s achievements are important components of extra-curricular activities that aim to improve educational outcomes. The process evaluation provides some evidence that these factors contributed to the success of this intervention. It also found that pressures to meet performance targets, and limited time, were barriers to taking part for some schools.
Children in the CU schools made 2 additional months’ progress in reading and maths compared to children in the other schools. The finding for maths has moderate security, and the finding for reading has low to moderate security
Children in CU schools made small gains in ‘teamwork’ and ‘social responsibility’ compared to children in the other schools. The finding for social responsibility has moderate security and the finding for teamwork has low to moderate security.
Children ever eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) made 1 additional month’s progress in maths, no additional progress in reading, and small gains in ‘teamwork’ and ‘social responsibility’ compared to ever FSM children in the other schools. The smaller number of ever FSM pupils means these results are less secure than the results for all pupils.
Compared to pupils in the control group, those in the treatment group were more likely to select professional occupations as their future aspiration, and to report higher levels of communication, empathy, self-confidence, resilience, and happiness, after the intervention.
The intervention was feasible to run with support from school leaders. However, 7 schools decided not to implement the intervention despite receiving the training because of pressures to meet performance targets, and limited time.
Full project description
Children’s University (CU) aims to improve the aspirations, attainment, and skills of pupils aged 5–14 by providing learning activities beyond the normal school day. This trial focused on pupils in Years 5 and 6 (aged 9–11), and activities included after-school clubs, visits to universities, museums, and libraries, and ‘social action’ opportunities such as volunteering in the community. Local CU teams worked with schools to identify opportunities, and organise and monitor the activities. Children volunteered to take part and selected the activities they wished to attend, with the target of completing at least 30 hours of activity per year. Participation in activities was rewarded through credits, certificates, and a ‘graduation’ event attended by parents.
68 primary schools participated in this efficacy trial from March 2014 until July 2016. 2,603 pupils reported in an initial survey that they would like to take part in the kinds of activities offered, and these ‘volunteer’ pupils formed the main comparison groups. 1,452 of these pupils were in the 36 schools randomly allocated to receive the CU intervention, and 1,151 were in the 32 schools randomised to the control group. This project evaluated the impact of CU on pupils’ reading and maths in Key Stage 2 tests, and on non-cognitive outcomes such as ‘teamwork’ and ‘social responsibility’ measured through an attitude survey. Results were obtained for Year 6 pupils after one year and for Year 5 pupils after two years. The headline findings below are based on the results for the 1,258 Year 5 pupils after two years. Surveys and interviews were conducted to explore other aspects of the intervention such as: participants’ feedback, challenges of implementation, and control group activity. This trial was jointly funded by the Cabinet Office.