Participation in out-of-school activities and the socio-economic gap in children's academic outcomes
Kadar Satat, Gitit
Social stratification research has consistently found persistent inequalities in the academic outcomes of children from different socio-economic status (SES) groups. Research in the sociology of education has shown that students from higher SES groups outperform peers from lower SES groups on various academic indicators as well as make greater academic progress when assessed at two or more separate points in time. Recent evidence from the US has also shown that participation in leisure out-of-school activities (OSA) is among the factors which may contribute to maintaining or even widening these inequalities. Similar evidence is lacking in the UK. The present research focuses on this issue by analysing the role of participation in leisure OSA in the process of reproduction of social inequalities in academic outcomes among British school-aged children. The study draws on social and cultural capital theories to address the following questions: a) Are there differences in participation in OSA among school-aged children in dissimilar SES groups?; b) Taking into account children’s SES, is participation in OSA associated with their academic outcomes?; c) Does the association between participation in OSA and children’s academic outcomes vary across different SES groups? Using data from the third and fourth sweeps of the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), when cohort members were aged 5 and 7 years old, the research explores participation in three categories of leisure activities; a) social-group activities, b) commercial-public activities, and c) home-centred activities. Children’s academic outcomes are assessed using verbal and non-verbal standardised tests, as well as by teachers’ assessment. The study applied regression models to examine the relationships between children’s SES, participation in OSA and academic outcomes. The statistical analyses were carried out in a multilevel framework which enabled the MCS hierarchical data structure and area variations to be accounted for. The findings suggest that participation in some, but not all leisure OSA is one of the factors which contributes to socio-economic inequalities in educational outcomes among British school-aged children. This is because participation in OSA is associated with better academic performance among all students, however those in high SES groups are more likely to be exposed to such activities. After controlling for SES, gender, family characteristics, school type, absenteeism and geographical variation, there is a small to moderate positive relationship between participation in a number of different leisure OSA and 7-year-olds' academic performance. Interestingly, variations among children from different SES groups were found in the extent to which attendance at certain OSA (e.g. after-school clubs) is associated with academic development between age 5 and 7: children from lower SES who attend such activities tend to progress more academically than children from intermediate and higher SES.