One of last month’s interesting discussions was with colleagues from the Association of Colleges (AoC) and our own sports development manager around the increased promotion of fitness and wellbeing to students.
Any readers who’ve met me will have registered that I’ve hardly got the physique of a great athlete, and they’d be right. Captaining my school’s second badminton team to a number of defeats remains my proudest sporting achievement.
Perhaps it’s that which makes me even keener to see colleges with proper facilities and resources to offer a full programme of sporting activities.
There are significant issues with delivery, of course.
For urban colleges in particular, space is already tight, and while our college has invested time and energy in improving sports facilities, we are inevitably limited by our locations (whatever the other advantages they bring).
This is where partnership becomes so important, whether with other centres of education, with voluntary organisations, or with council facilities. Staff resources can also pose challenges, although the AoC and its partners have made great steps in supporting the needs of colleges.
Unlike schools, most of our students are part-time, so ensuring access at convenient times — and increasing awareness of the gym’s very existence — requires dedicated personnel and effort.
But if the challenges are great, so too are the benefits.
A recent study by the AoC found a “positive relationship between engagement in sport, future income and employability from both the employer and admissions tutor perspective”, and concluded that participation in sport was “a ‘good investment’ for students in both the FE and higher education sector”.
Other research, here and abroad, has confirmed this view. A 2007 study in Germany concluded emphatically that participation in sport “has significant positive effects on educational attainment,” but also pointed to lessons for policy and parenting: “Positive effects of sport activities should encourage politics to strengthen sport activities in school and out of school [and] parents should … encourage their children to get involved”.
More broadly than sport, there is growing evidence on the impact of other non-classroom activity on learning.
There is compelling evidence thwat the creative arts, for example, have a tangible positive impact on achievement in other subjects, and on a range of social measures such as community engagement and less boredom in education.
Like sport, the arts can also have a positive effect on attendance and behaviour.
For older adults, 2013 research by the Institute of Education concluded that those participating in music were happier, healthier and had more positive relationships.
Extra-curricular engagement, therefore, doesn’t just contribute to colleges’ core aims of improving student achievement, progression and employability, but can make students more rounded citizens with higher levels of wellbeing too.
The implications of this, for colleges and policy-makers, are therefore wide and evidence-based.
Colleges will clearly wish to focus on anything improving their students’ lives and experiences, but the capacity for FE to provide extra-curricular activities also meets wider goals on engaging with our communities and offering a service to a whole local area.
Of course, capacity costs. As every reader knows, colleges are facing a period of unprecedented financial attack, with cuts to various funding streams precipitating some difficult times ahead.
It may be tempting (and necessary), under such circumstances, for leadership teams to focus on what we believe to be colleges’ “core business,” but to underestimate the non-classroom aspects of that would perhaps be shortsighted.
Colleges, which have proud traditions of open access and of a holistic view of education, will doubtless want to find ways of continuing their commitment to extra-curricular activities — and the work of organisations like the AoC in supporting that are to be applauded.
Having quoted Enid Blyton in a previous FE Insider column, I’d hate to seem obsessed with the venerable first-form teacher Miss Roberts, but she might well have been speaking for FE colleges when she said that “there are other things as important as lessons”.
As the evidence-base — from our own knowledge and from research — grows and grows, we must make sure that cuts and policies do not damage this aspect of our students’ attainment and experience.