Research School Network: Secondary case study: The Vital Role of Extracurricular Activities for SEND pupils Fostering Belonging and Growth through a coherent extracurricular offer

Secondary case study: The Vital Role of Extracurricular Activities for SEND pupils

Fostering Belonging and Growth through a coherent extracurricular offer

The EEF Guidance Report Improving Behaviour in Schools states that it is important to know and understand your pupils. In this they offer the following suggestion (bold font added by us):

Consider your school context and the system that would work for you. Is it possible to structure your school such that someone knows each pupil, their strengths and interests? Can this be managed for some pupils, if not all?

We were very conscious as a school that we had focused a great deal of energy upon what happens within the classroom, but comparatively little about what happens outside. While academic study undoubtedly will always hold significant importance for all schools – manifesting itself at this time of year at secondary schools in that final push for every last GCSE and A Level grade – the holistic development of students, particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), necessitates a broader perspective.

Extracurricular activities play a pivotal role in nurturing a sense of belonging and fostering overall growth among SEND pupils. This is one of the reasons why we took the decision to relaunch our extracurricular offer. This included the following steps:

- an audit of the existing clubs that were on offer

- pupil, parent/​carer and staff voice about which clubs they wanted which are were not currently offered

- developed a register system so that we can track pupil numbers at clubs, and allow us to see which ones SEND pupils attend

- delivered a sales pitch to staff to promote greater involvement

- trained 6th formers to support with facilitating clubs and provide them with leadership opportunities

- carried out quality assurance on a termly basis

- developed a personal invite system to encourage attendance from the most reluctant students

The challenges for some SEND children extend beyond academic hurdles and encompass social, emotional, and physical aspects. To help tailor our offer, we made sure there were clubs that would provide safe and nurturing environments to support our most vulnerable students. These include Lego Club, Art Club, Social club and Colouring Club. This helps to build confidence and resilience and allows us to then encourage their participation in full range of school extra-curricular.

Another example of a new club started this year at the request of pupils is our Boxing club, which has provided students with a diagnosis of ADHD with an outlet for their increased energy levels and an opportunity to develop their focus and concentration levels by engaging them in an activity that is of specific interest.

Successful experiences at one club, we hope, may well generate the confidence to try something new. For instance, participating in a team sport can help develop collaboration skills, while involvement in a school band can enhance musical abilities and self-expression. The development of these skills not only benefits SEN students outside the classroom, but they are easily transferable into their class-based learning. We have seen first-hand how support with developing these softer skills can have a significant impact on their ability to manage their time in school.

Moreover, extracurricular activities provide a sense of belonging and acceptance that is essential for the well-being of SEND pupils. In these settings, students have the chance to interact with peers who share similar interests and experiences, thereby reducing feelings of isolation and fostering friendships. The sense of belonging that arises from being part of a group contributes significantly to self-esteem and confidence, empowering SEND pupils to navigate social dynamics with greater ease.

Additionally, extracurricular involvement offers a break from the rigors of academic work, allowing students to explore their passions and interests in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere. This balance is crucial for maintaining motivation and preventing burnout, particularly for SEND pupils who may face additional academic or sensory challenges.

In conclusion, extracurricular activities play a vital role in the holistic development of SEND pupils, offering opportunities for skill development, social integration, and a sense of belonging. By actively promoting and facilitating extracurricular involvement, schools can create inclusive environments that empower every student to thrive and reach their full potential. In doing so, they not only enrich the educational experience but also foster a culture of acceptance and diversity that benefits the entire school community.

Gareth Stewart, Assistant SENCO and Extracurricular Champion at Huntington School, York

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