- Description of OST activities
- National policy context for OST provision
- Benefits of OST activities
- Best practice in OST provision
- The Arts and OST provision
Out of school time activities (OST) is a broad term that is used for a diverse range of formal and informal supervised before and after school activities. Activities include homework supervision and support , sports, arts and crafts, music, drama and dance. Other terms such as after school care, after school clubs and extracurricular activities are commonly used to describe the provision of before and after school services.
Although the QDOSS definition emphasises ‘structured’ programmes, OST activities are more likely to encompass a variety of structured and unstructured activities in the same setting. Therefore, in some settings, the activities that are offered to children may lie somewhere along a continuum from highly structured to unstructured.
According to Pechman et al., (2005) the features of structured OST activities are that they are well organised, that they challenge students intellectually, creatively, developmentally and/or physically and involve the practice or progression and development of analytical skills.
Further difficulties with defining OST services and activities arise when considering their primary objective and the settings where activities are provided. For example, privately provided before and after school childcare may also be considered within the ambit of OST provision, but the primary objective of such services is the provision of supervised childcare to working parents who pay for the service. In practice though, children who attend such care may also participate in a range of enrichment activities including homework supervision and arts and crafts activities.
Organisations such as Barnardos, who have a remit to provide services for children and families at risk, also offer after school services to these groups. OST activities are also provided by schools themselves on the school premises, and may include, inter alia, homework supervision, sports clubs, drama, music, and arts activities. In particular such provision is found in schools that have been selected to be a part of the Department of Education and Science School Completion Programme. Schools in this programme s upport students who are at risk of early school leaving and there is a requirement to offer after school and holiday programmes to their students.
Notwithstanding the variations that are found in OST contexts, and motivations for the provision of OST activities, in
The growth in community OST services in areas of disadvantage such as homework clubs, breakfast clubs and complementary educational activities has been noted in the Report of the Working Group of the National Childcare Co-ordination Committee (2005). It notes that these services provide a significant childcare element yet the Committee did not consider that these services should be within the terms of reference for the review of school-aged childcare services: These services usually incorporate elements of physical care through the provision of a meal and a welcoming environment together with social support s and formal or informal educational support s. Notwithstanding the fact that a care element may be found in school-based provision, or more commonly, community based provision, these clubs sometimes define themselves as Out of School Support Services. Their key focus is on educational attainment and social inclusion and therefore they cannot be regarded as school age childcare within the scope of this review (DJELR, 2005: 15).
The Working Group of the National Childcare Co-ordination Committee made several recommendations related to governance, standards, quality, funding and sustainability, all of which are directly relevant in the OST sector. The decision not to include the OST sector within the review may be considered as a missed opportunity for the development of the sector.
There are several key policy documents that are relevant when considering OST activities in an Irish context.
The National Children’s Strategy
One of the goals of the National Children’s Strategy (2000) was to contribute to
Towards 2016 The Partnership Agreement
The Partnership Agreement, Towards 2016 (Department of An Taoiseach, 2006) is relevant to understanding the context of OST provision. The Agreement contains a section on education and training and sets out goals to be achieved over the next ten years. A more specific commitment is given to developing initiatives to reduce early school leaving and to improve school attendance, educational progress, retention and attainment at both primary and second level. The section on children in the Agreement contains a commitment to ensuring that all children can access quality recreational activities. This commitment has been advanced in the National Recreation Policy.
The National Recreation Policy
The National Recreation Policy (2007) aims to provide State-funded recreational activities for young people aged 12 to 18. It encompasses both structured and unstructured activities. The Policy recognises the importance and value to young people’s development during adolescence from their participation in recreational activities. A key principle of the Policy is the concept of the ‘whole child perspective.’ This advocates looking at children’s lives in a way that is ‘holistic, child-centred and integrated’ (p.11).9 Seven objectives were identified in the National Recreation Policy. While all are important in relation to developing OST activities,
9 This concept is taken from the National Children’s Strategy (2000) one has particular significance and relates to the need for ensuring that recreational activities are available for young people who experience any form of disadvantage.
Educational disadvantage context and policy
As noted above, the National Partnership Agreement emphasises the need for improvements on educational disadvantage indicators. In addition to citing early school leaving, educational retention and attainment, the Agreement emphasises the importance of literacy and educational attainment across the lifecycle. Education and training goals for all groups are established for the next decade, but children attract special attention: they are encouraged ‘to be active agents in their own learning and to engage in collaborative active learning’ (p.31).
There is a commitment to the development of initiatives to reduce early school leaving and to improve school attendance, educational progress, retention and attainment at primary and second levels. A specific goal is outlined in terms of literacy: ‘every child should leave primary school literate and numerate’ (p.41). Specific actions are proposed that aim to improve educational outcomes for children, with particular priority accorded to those in disadvantaged communities. Despite evidence that
The most recent Department of Education School Leavers’ Survey is the 2007 Survey which is based on young people who left school in the academic year 2004/5. It indicates that young people who come from backgrounds classified as manual or unemployed have a much greater likelihood of leaving school before completing their Leaving Certificate. For those who left school with no formal qualifications just under one fifth left school in first year of secondary, 34% in second year and 37% in third year (Byrne, McCoy & Watson, 2008). The same study also reported clear class differentiation in the type of Leaving Certificate programme undertaken by students in different class groups. While three quarters of students from professional employer/manager backgrounds leave school having taken the established Leaving Certificate programme, just one third of students from unemployed backgrounds take this programme.
In addition, McCoy, Kelly and Watson (2007) based on their analysis of the 2006 School Leavers’ Survey point to the lack of improvement observed in school completion rates, despite significant policy efforts: The survey found no improvement in levels of second-level completion, which continue to remain at levels found in the early 1990s, despite much policy focus and considerable resources allocated towards combating early school leaving and educational underachievement. Socio-economic difference in second-level completion and performance remain wide (McCoy, Kelly & Watson, 2007: xi).
The main government policy effort aimed at tackling educational disadvantage is the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools Programme (DEIS). This programme provides for a system of identification and reviewing of the status of schools in terms of disadvantage and the provision of an appropriate package of educational support s that include literacy, numeracy, additional teacher support , book grants, curriculum development, teacher training, special needs assistance and a variety of other initiatives. It has involved numerous schemes and has undergone integration over the period 2005-2006 into the School Support Programme. Previously, according to the Department of Education and Science, 32 separate initiatives were aimed at educational disadvantage in the primary and second-level sectors.
The School Support Programme under DEIS includes the following schemes: (Links to DES Site)
- The Home School Community Liaison Scheme
- The School Completion Programme
- Support Teachers Project
- Early Start Pre-School Scheme
- Giving Children an Even Break
- Breaking the Cycle
- Disadvantaged Area Scheme
In a recent announcement by Sean Haughey TD ( 18th May, 2009 ), the Home School Community Liaison Scheme and the School Completion Programme will come under the remit of the National Educational Welfare Board. There is a considerable amount of research that has examined educational disadvantage in the context of reading literacy generally, and in the context of schools that have acquired disadvantaged status. Eivers, Shiel and Short, (2004) reveal that children in schools with disadvantaged status have much lower levels of reading literacy when compared on a standardised measure with children from nondisadvantaged s chools. Furthermore, the higher percentages of children in disadvantaged schools that were at, or below, the 10th percentile indicated that between 25% and 30% of these students qualified for learning support . Very small proportions (less than 5% of first class, third class and sixth class students) in disadvantaged schools had high levels of reading achievement. Such findings are important when considered in the context of the current policy responses aimed at addressing educational disadvantage and in particular those that pertain to literacy.
Weir and Archer (2004) point out that the literacy performance of students in schools designated as disadvantaged continues to fall below those of other pupils. In particular, there are concerns among educational researchers about programmes such as Reading Recovery which aims to bring students to the average level of the class, in a context where the schools involved serve low income and minority children, thereby reproducing inequalities and maintaining low expectations for these groups (Archer & Weir, 2004). These concerns are validated by data on reading literacy among disadvantaged schools that shows low levels of reading literacy to be more likely and high levels of reading literacy to be exceptional, with a need in these schools for substantial learning support .
The extent to which the DEIS programme can adequately impact upon literacy outcomes has been questioned by Eivers et al., (2005) who point to systemic problems that include overloaded learning support teachers, and a lack of qualified learning support teachers in remedial education, such that there is a call for other, more innovative approaches (Archer & Weir, 2004).
As the previous sections have shown, Irish OST provision is situated within and support ed by strong evidence about educational disadvantage and a number of social
policies that are aimed at social inclusion for children and families who experience
socio-economic disadvantage. As noted earlier there has been a growth in OST
provision at a community level in areas of disadvantage. It is therefore important to
consider research evidence about the benefits that OST activities provide for young
people. This research, mainly from the
Areas of socio-economic disadvantage
Although there is a broad range of benefits for children who attend OST activities, research indicates that there may be even more pronounced benefits for children who experience social and economic disadvantage. The Harvard Family Research Project evaluations of US OST activities concludes that participation in such activities can potentially have positive outcomes in various areas including academic, social/emotional, prevention, and health and well-being - particularly to children and young people who experience social disadvantage (Harvard Family Research Project, 2008). For example, Caldwell and Baldwin (2003) argue that leisure and recreation time activities can help to counter some of the challenges to positive development that young people may face.
Despite the evidence pointing to the positive outcomes of participation in OST activities, young people who live in more socially and economically disadvantaged areas are less likely to have the opportunity to take part in such activities compared to their peers from more affluent backgrounds (Spielberger & Lockaby, 2008). Research carried out in
Participation in OST activities has been found to have a potentially positive impact on children and young people’s participation rates in education. Mahoney and Cairns (1997) found evidence to suggest that where young people took part in out of school or extracurricular activities, this was associated with lower early school leaving rates for boys and girls, particularly for those who were deemed to be at the highest risk of drop out.
Another longitudinal study conducted over three years involving more than 3000 California high school students, examined the impact of school-based extracurricular activities on health behaviours and academic outcomes. Year-to-year variations in substance use, and academic performance were associated with participation in extracurricular activities. When adolescents were involved in extracurricular activities they reported lower levels of smoking, substance use, higher grades, more positive attitudes and higher academic achievement (Darling, 2005).
Heath and Roach (1999) examined the impact of three types of community programmes, athletic-academic, community service, and art on young people’s academic performance. Their study showed that adolescents participating in community arts programmes develop a greater range of skills and dispositions that enable them to cope and succeed in school and in their daily lives. Furthermore, adolescents involved in arts programmes were doing better in school than those in programmes that focused on sports and community alone (Heath & Roach,1999). Roeser and Peck (2003) demonstrated that young people at risk of an incomplete high school education are twice as likely to graduate from high school if they participate in positive extracurricular activities more than once a week in the 11th grade. Peck et al., (2008) extend this examination of extracurricular participation and its link to educational attainment to sub-groups of young people deemed to be at risk of poor educational outcomes, but who have been successful in terms of educational attainment. Using data from the Maryland Adolescent Development in Context Study they attempted to account for ‘educational resilience’ in at risk sub-groups of young people. They found that adolescents who were at risk of poor educational outcomes are differentiated from other vulnerable adolescents who do not go on to college by their pattern of involvement in extracurricular activities during high school. College enrolment rates were significantly greater for at risk youth who were involved in both school clubs and organised sports than other at risk young people. The authors conclude that: " Our results suggest that when vulnerable youth are exposed to a broad distribution of extracurricular activity settings that afford them constructive, developmentally appropriate opportunities (e.g. to befriend healthy peers, develop competencies and skills, exercise some autonomy, develop long-term mentoring relationships, and explore their commitment to education more generally) then their chances of being educationally resilient are enhanced" (Peck et al., 2008149 ).
In contrast, Cosden, Morrison, Gutierrez and Brown (2004) indicate the limited success of homework programmes and after school activities on school success for at risk young people. They review research that shows that participation in after school study support may not result in improved academic outcomes for these groups, but
may serve as a protective factor by preventing further school disengagement. Zief, Lauver and Maynard (2006) conducted a systematic review of the impact of after school programmes on student outcomes. The review included five studies that examined student outcomes in terms of student location, supervision and safety, participation in enriching activities, behavioural, social and emotional, and academic outcomes. The meta-analysis showed that just one of the studies (Lauver, 2002) found that participants had a greater aspiration to attend college than non-participants. The
A number of studies have examined the impact of extracurricular activities on adolescent psychological development (for a review see Feldman & Matjasko, 2005). Feldman and Matjasko (2005) note that although most studies of extracurricular activities report a positive association between participation and self-esteem, gender differences are apparent. There is a positive association between participation in most extracurricular activities and self-esteem for boys, but for girls this association only relates to specific activities. Feldman and Matjasko (2005) drawing on Holland and Andre (1987) point to the need to consider structural factors in the school environment that have been found to impact on self-esteem. That study found that self-esteem was linked to the size of the school and the pressure to participate and be successful. This was particularly the case for successful males in small schools where participation in extracurricular activities was found to be predictive of higher selfesteem. Unsuccessful male students in small schools had lower levels of self-esteem and a higher degree of alienation.
There is a considerable amount of research that indicates the impact of negative life events on increased psychological symptoms such as depression and substance use, and evidence that extracurricular activities can provide a buffer for adolescents through the social support networks that they provide (Darling, 2005). For example, Darling (2005) in a cross-sectional and longitudinal study of 3,761 California high school students found that although effect sizes were small, adolescents’ participation in extracurricular activities was a protective factor for the effects of life events stress (eg school suspension, bereavement, relationship difficulties, parent losing job etc) on their use of tobacco, marijuana and other drugs. In addition, the association is greater when more time is spent participating in activities and when high levels of stress are experienced.
The psychological developmental impact of extracurricular activities has been reported by Fredericks et al., (2002) in qualitative research involving 41 adolescents who had been involved in athletics or the arts since middle childhood (Fredricks et al., 2002). Although the adolescents who continued to participate over time perceived that they had skills in particular activities and felt that they were ‘good at it’, finding that they were good at the activity in turn boosted their self-confidence. This was particularly the case for adolescents who had not been high achievers, either socially or academically (Fredricks et al., 2002: 78). Australian research echoes much of the US based research that shows that extracurricular activities have the potential to promote a positive self concept in adolescents. Blomfield and Barber (2009) found that adolescents who participated in both sports and non-sports reported a more positive social self concept compared to those who only participated in one activity type (Blomfield & Barber, 2009).
Shernoff and Vandell (2007) suggest that extracurricular activities provide a context for positive youth development. Using students’ self-reported information, their study explored middle school students’ experiences of a variety of after school activities. Findings revealed that students were engaged, interested and showed concentrated effort particularly in sports and arts enrichment activities (Shernoff & Vandell, 2007). Research by Barber et al., (2001) emphasises that the long-term psychological benefits that youth derive from extracurricular activities may stem from the type of activities that they are involved in. While Barber et al., found generally that participation over time reduced feelings of social isolation and increased self-esteem, negative psychological outcomes were found for those who had long-term participation in performing arts. However, Feldman and Matjasko argue that it is difficult to separate out the causal mechanisms involved in extracurricular activities.
Where improvements have been found for at risk adolescents it is difficult to ascertain if the impact is derived from the activity, the mentoring relationship or both (Feldman & Matjasko, 2005). The Arklink Initiative (1999) set up in Fatima Mansions for primary school children support s international findings that participation in extracurricular activities provides positive benefits for participants (Tweedie, 2007). The evaluation of Arklink showed positive outcomes such as increased self-esteem, greater confidence, greater ability to help others and be support ive, problem solving skills, increased creativity and collaboration between children (Tweedie, 2007).
Relationships: community and family
OST activities are deemed to have wider benefits for local communities and society. Where young people are actively engaged in OST activities, this means that they are less likely to be involved in anti-social behaviour. Thus, OST activities can be seen as ‘potentially powerful tools’ to enhance young people’s development and counter negative behaviour and poor outcomes (Chaskin & Baker, 2006).
Although Irish research on OST provision is somewhat limited, two studies confirm the benefits that after school provision brings for parents who live in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage. Ryan evaluated a third class homework support programme in a disadvantaged area of Dublin where there was low educational attainment and high absenteeism among school children. This study found that parents reported benefits for themselves and the wider family through their child’s involvement in the homework club. Parents felt less pressured because of the support provided. In particular the support was greatly welcomed by parents who themselves had difficulties with reading and were unable to help their children with school work (Ryan, nd).
Similar findings are reported by Hennessy and Donnelly in their study of four community-based after school projects in disadvantaged areas (Hennessy & Donnelly, 2005). Benefits for parents were derived from having free time for themselves. This was particularly so for parents of younger children. Assistance with homework alleviated the pressure on parents to help with homework, and this in turn benefited the rest of the family. Benefits were also reported by parents from non- English speaking backgrounds.
In Zief, Lauver and Maynard’s (2006) systematic review that included five high quality
The OST environment provides the opportunity for young people to interact with their peer groups, which provides direct and indirect benefits. Chaskin and Baker (2006) conducted an in-depth study of 99 10th grade students who attended Chicago public schools to determine the factors that influenc ed their participation in OST activities. They observe that peers and siblings who are involved in after school programmes act as important sources of information that leads to the invitation of other young people to join programmes. In addition, this relationship with peers also impacts upon young people’s decision-making about remaining in the after school programmes over time (Chaskin & Baker, 2006).
The important contribution OST activities make to the development of peer relationships has been noted in Bailey and Thompson’s evaluation of a
There is a strong connection between the types of activities in which adolescents participate and the formation of certain types of peers. Adolescents who participate in prosocial activities, team sports, performing arts and school promotion activities and a cademic clubs are significantly more likely than non-participants to have academic friends (Eccles et al., 2003). In addition, adolescents who participate in prosocial activities and the performing arts are significantly less likely to report having peers involved in risky behaviours (Eccles et al., 2003). The time spent on activities means that young people become linked to peer groups in which they spend additional time outside of the activity. This contributes to the formation of peer-group culture and identity (Eccles et al., 2003: 875).
Outside of the classroom extracurricular activities provide opportunities for young people to have regular contact with non-familial adults (Darling, 2005). Notwithstanding the benefits of contact with adults, Eccles et al., (2003) emphasise the importance of having contact with the ‘right adults’. Participation in extracurricular activities provides young people with the benefit of additional adult support in terms of advice about future plans and personal problems. Compared to peers not involved in extracurricular activities, young people who are involved are able to draw upon a greater range of non-familial adults for such advice and more frequent educational advice from teachers and occupational counsellors (Eccles et al., 2003).
The Boys and Girls Club of America programme provides an opportunity for low income young people to learn academic skills in a safe environment and participate in recreational activities with their peers and staff. Research has demonstrated that relationships between staff and boys contributed to higher self-esteem and reduced behaviour problems among young boys. In addition, relationships between older boys and staff impacted positively on the potential for older boys to get in trouble (Roffman et al., 2001).
As noted earlier, while there is a wide variation in what constitutes OST services, from highly structured programmes to the provision of relatively unstructured activities such as youth drop in centres, much of the evidence on OST provision is based upon structured programmes (Mahoney, Eccles, Larson, 2004).
While outcome studies of structured programmes are useful, less is known about the social processes within these structured contexts that make programmes effective or ineffective for participants (Fredericks et al., 2002). Mahoney, Eccles and Larson, (2004) suggest that despite the limited evidence on social processes, there are a number of key characteristics of after school programmes that are associated with positive developmental outcomes for young people: Stable participation in after-school programs that are housed in a safe environment, directed by an adequate number of qualified staff, and provide a social climate characterised by warmth and positive interactions among staff and participants is associated with positive development for the participants (Mahoney, Eccles & Larson, 2004: 122).
- young people having access to and continuous participation in such activities
- quality programmes, and
- strong partnerships between all the different stakeholders involved (Goss et al., 2008).
In the following section we examine research evidence that can guide good practice in OST provision in areas such as participation, quality of service provision, partnerships and parent involvement.
There are notable gender differences in relation to young people’s participation in OST activities. Irish research with a representative sample of students in fifth and sixth class in primary school, and first and second years in secondary school that examined school children’s participation in sport has reported clear gender differences in extra-curricular sports activity: ‘overall there is a considerable gulf between the way that boys and girls approach sport’ (Fahey, Delaney & Gannon, 2005: 37). The study also finds that there is a tendency for students to decrease participation in extracurricular activities as they progress through secondary school. Students, in particular girls, who participated in music and singing in the early years of secondary school tended to have lesser engagement in the later years as they did with sport (Fahey, Delaney & Gannon, 2005).
Similar findings have been reported for middle and high school students in the US. Significant differences were found for students participating in athletics, choral music and dance in the direction of gender-stereotypical expectations (Worrell & Bucknavage, 2005).
For example results indicated females reported significantly higher participation rates in music, dance, drama/acting and debate, while males participated in higher numbers in all the major sporting activities in school (Worrell & Bucknavage, 2005). Roffman et al., (2001) report gender differences in relation to young people’s experience of participation in the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and their wellbeing. While positive associations were found for boys in terms of their reasons for attending the clubs and not getting involved in trouble, no associations between girls’ well-being and mentioning club activities was found. The authors concluded that there was a need to determine why activities did not have an impact on girls’ well-being and whether the activities themselves attract and engage girls.
The level of young people’s participation is important in evaluating the impact of OST activities on academic outcomes. Compared to similar young people who did not take part in OST activities those with high levels of participation have more favourable educational outcomes, in the form of lower failure rates for core subjects and also higher graduation rates (Goerge et al., 2007). The importance of continuous participation was highlighted as such benefits were found to disappear after young people stopped taking part in OST activities (Goerge et al., 2007). Mahoney, Cairns and Farmer (2003) using results from a longitudinal study of US students found that consistent participation in extracurricular activities impacted positively on students’ educational status, college attendance and was also associated with low rates of school dropout and low rates of criminal arrest in young adulthood.
While benefits accrue to young people as a result of sustained participation, it is important to understand the processes that determine participation. Fredrick et al., (2002: 76) note the start of high school to be ‘a major turning point’ for young people’s commitment to extracurricular activities. They highlight that participation is more easily sustained where adolescents find the activities to be appropriately challenging.
Chaskin and Baker’s study examined why young people become involved in OST activities and found that that many did so because of the opportunity to develop leadership skills. The chance to state their opinions and ideas, the ability to make a valuable contribution by using their skills and having a sense of responsibility all help ed to facilitate young people to attain a leadership role, where appropriate. In terms of maintaining young people’s participation in OST activities, Chaskin and Baker (2006) argue that this is most likely where there is a wide range of activities available which match their interests. Chaskin and Bakers’ study echoes research by Mahoney, Larson and Eccles who suggest that after school programmes that are successful in maintaining young people’s participation over time offer opportunities that take account of the maturing adolescent. Such programmes offer opportunities for young people in leadership, decision-making and provide them with meaningful involvement (Mahoney, Larson & Eccles, 2005).
The stage at which students participate in after school study support programmes may have a positive impact on academic attainment. Understanding the impact of student participation in after school programmes requires a nuanced understanding of programme context in terms of who received what, and when. In a study of the impact of a three-year homework project designed to provide students with homework assistance and help with study skills that did not target students at risk of school failure, Cosden et al., (2004) found no overall differences between the intervention group and control group on ratings of school belonging, teacher ratings on student behaviour, grades, and results in standardised tests. Importantly though, the study examined which elements of the programme were associated with academic achievement. Rather than overall programme attendance, attendance in the fourth grade was found to be a significant predictor of students’ academic outcomes in the sixth grade.
In particular there was a significant relationship between homework programme attendance in fourth grade and study skills, which affected homework completion and test scores in maths and reading in sixth grade. The authors conclude that skills developed in the fourth grade were harnessed successfully by students in later years. Fredricks et al., (2002) support Cosden et al’s view about the importance of understanding the contextual conditions of extracurricular programme delivery. They advocate that there is a need to conduct process-oriented research that considers how and why individuals choose to participate in activities or not. For Cosden et al., (2004) the impact of young people’s participation in after school activities and after school homework programmes is best understood using a risk and resilience framework (see Table 2.1 below). This allows for an understanding of the circumstances in which young people’s participation in after school programmes may have positive or negative impacts.
|Table 2.1 Risk and protective factors associated with participation in after-school extracurricular activities and homework programs|
|After -School Activities|
|After-school homework programs|
Source: Cosden, M., Morrison, G., Gutierrez, L. & Brown, M. (2004). ‘The effects of homework programs and after-school activities on school success’. Theory into Practice, 43 (3): 220-226.
Quality of service provision
The quality of provision is also critically important to the potential effectiveness of OST activities. Durlak and Weissberg (2007) identified four key aspects of OST activities that help ed to promote the personal, social and academic development of children and youth aged five to eighteen. These were: ‘sequential’ – an ordered set of activities is used to achieve the goal or skill development; ‘active’ – active forms of learning are used; ‘focused’ – at least one component of the programme was aimed at developing a personal or social skill; and finally, ‘explicit’ – the personal or social skill to be learned was identified (Durlak & Weissberg, 2007: 8).
Other aspects of quality OST service provision are staff-related in terms of those who design and deliver the services. Vandell and Shumow (1999) point to the importance of staff education and training and of a high staff-student ratio and low staff turnover.
According to Pitman et al., (2004) curriculum development, innovative programme design and professional development are ‘front burner issues’ for those who organise OST programmes. Staff within OST services should have the necessary skills to perform their jobs and this requires enhancing the quantity and quality of professional development. Rosenthall and Vandell (1996) similarly emphasise the importance of staff education and training. While staff professional development and effective curricula are important for the delivery of quality and effective OST services some researchers advocate that OST providers engage in systemic change processes (Pittman et al., 2004; Reisner et al., 2007).
Systemic change processes in OST service provision seek to bring about a joined-up approach among mainstream educational providers, community OST providers and the wider community where they collaborate and share goals. Pitman et al., (2004) call for intentional partnerships among parents and OST staff to improve the capacity among families, schools and communities to support learning. A key feature of the systemic change process involves content alignment. To this end teams made-up of out of school time providers and school representatives collaborate on an alignment plan that specifies how they intend to work together to support children’s learning in and out of school hours. Similarly Reisner et al., (2007) point to the limitations of OST services that operate as ‘silos’ only taking account of the students that they have enrolled and only concentrating on their own goals.
There is much more to be gained when all those with interests in youth development collaborate and work to a shared goal and build collective capacities. The alternative as, Reisner et al., suggest is for OST providers to compete with other community organisations for young people’s attention (Reisner et al., 2007: 2).
OST activities that are deemed to work emphasise the development of positive relationships between different stakeholders, especially parents. The involvement of parents in OST services has been associated with young people maintaining participation over time, but there are gender differences in the level of parental participation. Where fathers were involved over a number of years their child was most likely to be male, but the involvement of mothers was not mediated by their child’s gender (Denault & Polin, 2008).
A good deal of the research evidence on parental involvement relates to the formal education sector. Nevertheless, research that has explored barriers to parental involvement in the formal education sector may be useful to understanding parental involvement in the OST context. Lareau (1987) compared the level of involvement of US parents from working class and middle class backgrounds and found different responses to participation in their child’s education.
Middle class parents viewed the education of their children as a ‘shared enterprise’ and closely observed and contributed to their child’s school experience. By contrast, the working class parents viewed the educational experience of their child in a more hands off way. Schooling was the job of the teacher. In addition, there were differences between middle class and working class parents’ social networks. Middle class parents’ networks provided them with greater levels of support and information about their child’s schooling. While the middle class parents had fewer contacts with relatives, and more contact with other parents in the school community, the working class parents maintained closer links with family members and siblings living in the same area over several days of the week. This group of parents rarely had contact with other groups of parents in the same school, even when families lived on the same street. Lareau concluded that ‘educators and policy-makers may seek to increase parental involvement in schooling by boosting the educational capabilities and information resources of parents’ (1987: 83).
While US research has demonstrated that young people’s involvement in OST activities increases parents’ involvement in their child’s education through having more contact with teachers (Massachusetts 2020; 2004), Cosden et al., (2004) in the case of after school homework programmes, highlights the potential for reduced parental involvement. For parents with few resources, and in particular those with low educational attainment or of non-English speaking backgrounds, the home work programme acts as an important source of support to parents for their child’s education.
After school homework clubs can also reduce parental nvolvement as they can hinder other non-academic activities that encourage students’ attachment to school and the community and run the risk of reducing parental involvement in the schooling process ( Cosden et al., 2004).
Structured versus unstructured programmes
There is some debate in the research literature about the impact on young people from involvement in structured or unstructured OST activities. Miller (2003) notes that a common goal of many after school programmes is to form connections with schools, however the majority of programmes are unsuccessful in their endeavours. The structure of some after school programmes can hamper making this connection (Miller, 2003). Programmes vary from being informal or formal in structure.
There is some disagreement in the literature about whether the out of school time programme environment should become more like schools or be different. While some researchers are of the view that progammes should be different in some way to the school environments that students leave behind (Whalen & Wynn, 1995, cited in Vadeboncoeur, 2006: 271), others argue for a clear alignment between learning in nonschool contexts and learning in schools (Miller, 2001). Vadeboncoeur (2006) support s this call for greater alignment stating: that the boundary between school and after school could and should be reduced or eliminated, given the argument that “more school is better” (Vadeboncoeur, 2006: 271).
Other US research support s the benefits of attending formal out of school time programmes as opposed to self-care. Vandell and Posner (1994) found that children who attended formal programmes spent more time in academic activities, for example homework help and enrichment lessons such as music and dance. These children spent less time watching TV or hanging out. Other findings suggest that third grade children who spent more time doing academic and enrichment activities had better relations with their peer group and their behaviour and emotional adjustment at school were better than children who spent less time in these activities (Vandell & Posner, 1994). Building on previous research, Vandell and Posner (1999) conducted a longitudinal study of students from 3rd to 5th grade to investigate after school activities and the development of low income urban children. They found children who attended after school programmes spent more time on academic and extracurricular activities as opposed to children in informal care settings who spent more time watching TV and hanging out.
There is some evidence that involvement in structured or unstructured activities is mediated by gender. Mahoney (2000) found boys involved in unstructured activities had more challenging behaviours. In addition, those who participated in unstructured activities were characterised by deviant peer relationships, poor parent childrelationships, and low levels of support from their activity leaders. Birmingham et al., (2005) examined the features of high performing after school projects in New York city. Specifically they investigated 10 after school projects where students had made improvements on standardised reading and mathematics tests. The projects were found to have 24 shared features that contributed to student learning in areas of programming, staffing, and support systems. The projects offered a combination of structured and unstructured support that were not targeted specifically on academic outcomes but were more oriented to a wide range of learning opportunities and support s .
1. A broad array of enrichment opportunities
For many participants, the after-school project provided their first exposure to new learning opportunities in areas such as dance, music, art, and organized sports. Enrichment activities introduced participants to experiences that could spark interests and expand their goals for their own schooling, careers, and hobbies.
2. Opportunities for skill building and mastery
Each after-school project created opportunities to build participants’ literacy skills through reading, story-telling, writing activities, and use of formal curricula, such as KidzLit and Passport to Success. In addition, these after-school projects integrated a focus on mastery into arts-based activities. Because arts activities involved practicing new skills in preparation for an exhibition or a performance, participants gained experience in practicing a skill to the point of mastery.
3. Intentional relationship-building
This process began with each project fostering positive relationships with the host school, followed by steps to set a positive tone with staff through orientation, training, and establishment of participant norms. Throughout the year, the site coordinator worked on relationships with the project’s primary stakeholders through ongoing classroom-management training for staff, conflict resolution classes and team-building activities for participants, and regular communication with and the provision of support services to families.
4. A strong, experienced leader/manager supported by a trained and supervised staff
First and foremost, the site coordinators at these high performing projects brought with them experience in youth development and a strong connection to the community, the children, and the families they served. Through orientations at the beginning of the project year, ongoing staff meetings and supervision, and consistent feedback on what worked and what didn’t work, all 10 site coordinators made efforts (and budgeted the time) to communicate and reinforce their vision of effective programming with their staff.
5. The administrative, fiscal and professional-development support of the sponsoring organisation
The relationships between after-school projects and their sponsors built the foundation for the projects’ success and sustainability. In each partnership, the sponsor gave the site coordinator the autonomy and flexibility to manage the after-school project day-to-day, while providing administrative and fiscal support to the project. Each site coordinator was then able to use his or her expertise to select activities and make staffing decisions. Source: Birmingham, J., Pechman, E., Russell, C. & Mielke, M. (2005). Shared features of high performing after-school programs: A follow-up to the TASC Evaluation
Another project ‘Learning by Art’, a season of structured arts activities, was promoted by Portsmouth city schools in England (Matarasso, 1997). This programme involved a series of participatory activities, from half day art workshops for infants, to week long stays for sixth classes. While the main focus was on art as a part of the curriculum, the season also offered an opportunity to look at the contribution which participation in the arts might make to the general development of school students. Teachers assessed students in language development, observation skills, creativity and imagination and social skills development. Results demonstrated that the arts activities had a positive educational impact on most children. Teachers noted an increase in the level of concentration and effort their students were prepared to give the art activities, in particular, the commitment of unexpected children. There was a general recognition that increased confidence came from a sense of achievement from having done something that was valued. Teachers also observed a change in group dynamics, such as collective success gave students the same sort of pride as having made something of their own (Matarasso, 1997).
The preceding sections have provided a review of literature that locates the Rialto Learning Community (RLC) within a policy and research context. This may be used to inform current understanding, future development and evaluation of the RLC.
First we set out to examine definitions of OST activities and have found these to be wide ranging.
Second we considered the national policy context for OST provision. This shows that the provision of OST services is supported, albeit indirectly, by a number of government policies and policy initiatives. In addition, the provision of OST services is supportive of government policy aimed at addressing educational disadvantage and social inclusion.
The third section of this review outlined international and national research literature on the benefits of OST activities. Although much of the available research evidence is based upon US programmes, we have attempted to include Irish, UK and Australian research, but this is somewhat limited.
The evidence presented here shows a wide range of benefits to young people from participation in OST activities, in particular for young people living in socio-economic disadvantage.
Participation in OST activities is also beneficial for educational attainment, psychological development, and positive relationships among youth, families, peers and OST staff. The fourth section of the review examined evidence on best practice in OST service provision. Here a number of indicators of effective practice were reported related to participation, quality provision, parental involvement, and structured and unstructured programmes.
In the final section of this review we focus on research evidence that specifically relates to arts-based OST service provision.
The focus of this section is on arts-based and performing arts programmes that engage young people between the ages of 12-18 years in after school programmes and community based youth organisations. As with the previous sections of this review much of the evidence is based upon US studies, however, there is some evidence from the UK on the social impact of arts programmes on the community and the individuals involved.
According to Dierking and Falk (2003) arts-based extracurricular activities that are situated within community organisations are part of: a vast infrastructure that helps to support the ongoing and continuous learning of students and their families in providing more educational opportunities to more people, more of the time (Dierking & Falk, 2003: 78).
Arts-based or arts-enrichment programmes include a wide variety of activities such as classes in dance, music, drama, painting, pottery etc. This section also highlights research that provides evidence of the benefits of participating in dance, cheerleading and drama activities. Participation in arts activities can also lead to enhanced social cohesion in the community. In Critical Links (Deasy, 2002) reports on a number of studies that have integrated the arts in the classroom as part of the teaching methodology. These not only demonstrated positive outcomes in literacy and comprehension skills but also in student motivation, engagement and social competence.
In Critical Links a research compendium of US arts-based studies (Deasy, 2002), there is consistent evidence of the beneficial effects of participation in the arts. Research studies have found that dance is effective as a means of developing three aspects of creative thinking namely fluency, originality and abstractness (Bradley, 2002). Minton (2000) examined the relationship between dancing and creative thinking. Two hundred and eighty-six high school students (15 years old) were enrolled in dance and non- dance courses. Dancers participated for about five-to-eight hours a week, in and out of school, for a term. The study found that high school students who studied a variety of styles of dance for a school term scored better than non-dancers on elaboration, originality and abstractness tests (Minton, 2000). This evidence suggests that dance is a valid way for students to develop creative thinking skills, especially in the categories of originality and abstract thinking (Minton, 2000).
Further evidence from Critical Links (Deasy, 2002) demonstrates the positive effects of dance instruction on a group of disenfranchised adolescents. Ross (2000) conducted a qualitative study to explore the relationship between arts (dance) and social and community service. Sixty 13 to 17 year old at risk and incarcerated adolescents participated in 45 minute jazz and hip-hop dance classes twice weekly for 10 weeks. The study found that students reported gains in confidence, tolerance and persistence r elated to dance instruction. These results suggest that dance may be a medium particularly well suited to fostering positive self-perception and social development for disenfranchised adolescents (Ross, 2000). Barnett (2006) conducted a qualitative and quantitative study of high school girls who tried out for competitive cheerleading and dance teams.
Interview findings revealed how the successful girls spoke about the prospect of strengthening their relationship with their mothers. The findings also indicated that the audition process had implications for the girls and their school identity. For example, some of the girls mentioned that they felt more positive towards their school community as a direct result of successfully auditioning for the dance or cheerleading teams (Barnett, 2006). This finding supports Marsh (1992) who argues that school identity is related to many of the positive effects that have been found with healthy adolescent psychosocial functioning. Barnett’s cheerleader and dance team study substantiates the connection between involvement in school-related extracurricular activities and school identity.
According to Heath and Roach (1999) participation in drama in community-based organisations can have direct personal benefits for young people. For example Matarasso (1997) argues that many young people: use the framework offered by an arts project to extend themselves, to break with existing habits or social links and to move on a stage in their lives (Matarasso, 1997: 17).
Finland’s youth service can be cited as an example of helping young people achieve these goals of breaking with undesirable habits and moving on in their lives. In 1993 the youth service in Finland wanted to respond to the misuse of alcohol and drugs among girls in the city of Lahti. Toward this end, a total of fifteen girls aged 12-16 years took part in the ‘Crazy Girls’ project. The project was based on the concept “You can be crazy without intoxicants” using a variety of creative media to explore the girls’ ideas. All of the girls were successful in leading a drug-free life for the three-month duration of the project. This experience greatly helped and encouraged the girls to reassess their lives. It also had a very positive impact on their relationships with their parents. As a result of its success the project was copied in other Finnish cities (Matarasso, 1997). In Critical Links (Deasy, 2002) a number of studies in the classroom demonstrated how drama increased student literacy and comprehension skills. DuPont (1992) examined the e ffectiveness of creative drama as a teaching strategy to enhance the reading comprehension skills of fifth-grade students in remedial reading classes. The findings revealed that fifth-grade remedial reading students who were engaged in a six-week course of literature-based creative drama showed significantly greater gains in story comprehension than students in a discussion-based programme and a control student group (DuPont, 1992). This study suggests that creative drama can engage with children and improve their attitudes toward reading by associating reading with a fun activity, which in turn may encourage more reading and also enhance mental imagery of written material (DuPont, 1992).
Similarly, Parks and Rose (1997) studied the impact of a reading comprehension/drama programme on the reading skills of fourth graders. Results demonstrated that those exposed to drama improved significantly more than control students in reading c omprehension, drama skills and nonverbal expression of information inferred from a written text (Parks & Rose, 1997). Schaffner, Little and Felton (1984) conducted qualitative research on the effects of drama on fifth and sixth graders’ language development. Two hundred and eighty students in nine different schools participated. Teachers were asked to engage children in dramatic activities of their own design, but to avoid working from written texts. Schaffner et al., (1984) found that drama influenced students’ expressive language use, which provided them with opportunities to imagine, predict, reason, and evaluate their own learning.
Further evidence that drama enhances critical thinking skills is revealed in a year long study which took place in a New York city high school. Horn (1992) explored selfconfidence and self-image among at risk secondary students. They became engaged in dramatic writing as a way to help them develop critical thinking and collaboration skills. In the senior year class, students were encouraged to write and perform an original play that addressed something of relevance to themselves. Despite their initial struggles, students ended up writing far more than they could address in their dramatic productions.
The findings provide evidence of development in self-perception and behaviour over the year. Students increasingly saw hemselves as leaders and as important members of the class. The study argues that it is not just dramatic writing but also the process through which students are taught that is important, for example dramatic writing requires critical thinking skills (Horn, 1992).
Two schools in the US, one in Brooklyn and the other in the Bronx, demonstrated the benefits of integrating students’ popular culture of hip hop/rap music into the school curriculum. Both schools were part of a seventeen-year critical analysis project which gave rise to two extracurricular groups (Holder, 2007). In these schools students and teachers used the classroom to explore the connections between the curriculum and their lived realities. They did this by using the music of hip hop/rap to enhance their understanding of the curriculum. As a result, students’ popular culture and their everyday social interactions were integrated into the general curriculum, thus releasing students’ creativity. It also provided students with opportunities to ‘construct a space for self and to view themselves as part of a larger community’ (Holder, 2007: 283). At the Brooklyn school an annual concert was held where students read their poems and performed their raps, while students in the Bronx started lunchroom concerts named One Mic! According to Holder (2007) students not only developed a deeper interest in learning but these concerts facilitated the release of students’ creative potentials and demonstrated the positive role of hip hop in the lived realities of students.
Not only have the arts demonstrated positive outcomes for adolescent students, British research has shown beneficial effects on the community in the form of social cohesion. A 1997 British report examined the social impact of arts programmes which culminated in the publication of Use or Ornament? (Matarasso, 1997). According to Matarasso (1997), arts projects represent a valued and supportive environment which makes significant contributions in bringing people together.
Matarasso considers that arts can help foster good relationships between individuals and groups and promote understanding of different cultures and lifestyles. Matarasso exemplified this with a case study in Batley which is located in a small town near Leeds in the UK. In Batley, projects endeavoured to create links between different generations and demonstrated that arts projects made a real contribution to changing the minds of both young and old about each other. This feeling of social cohesion between the generations was further enhanced as several school-based projects came on board and invited local older people to share their experiences.
In addition, on Batley Carr housing estate, the art project helped transform perceptions of local children, formerly seen as a nuisance (Matarasso, 1997). The artist involved on this project developed a successful initiative based on the theme of Batley Carr past and future, which created ongoing positive contact between the generations (Matarasso, 1997). As a result of this initiative the young people were recognised as one of the resources that helped rejuvenate the estate. The Batley arts project demonstrated that participation in the arts can lead to social cohesion within the community (Matarasso, 1997).
Arts-based extracurricular programmes provide a rich learning environment for young people. The studies above show evidence of how the arts work to broaden students’ social, psychological and academic lives. Community arts projects demonstrate more b road-reaching outcomes but have made important contributions to the development of more socially inclusive societies.
Research on student participation in dance programmes provides evidence of the beneficial effects on students’ creative thinking, self-perception and school identity. Studies in drama participation demonstrate a significant contribution to children’s language development and reading comprehension. The positive effects of integrating students’ music in the form of hip hop/rap into the curriculum were evident in schools in the Bronx and Brooklyn in the US. British research has demonstrated that participation in community arts projects can lead to the development of community networks, promote contact between the generations and develop co-operation and tolerance among participants.
The review of arts-based extracurricular activities provides a context for youth development and that participation in the arts can increase student’s confidence, positive self perception and contribute to educational attainment.Top »