Suleiman Ibrahim

Head of Islamic studies & Social studies / Islamic Education Lecturer

Is this the best way for schools to deliver extracurricular education?


You may not have heard of Esbjerg, a seaport town in Denmark, but it is well worth learning about, especially if you work in education.

Over the past decade, 30 schools in three districts across the town have come together to revolutionise extracurricular activities. The offer for students is coordinated, extensive and useful, without demanding too much of classroom teachers – not something you can always say about extracurricular provision in the UK.

In December last year, 98 per cent of the Danish pupils who participated said they were highly satisfied with the programme, with many citing improvements in personal wellbeing and academic attainment as a result of taking part.

So how does the approach work?

It’s all about collaboration. Teachers throughout the 30 schools volunteer to offer courses, ranging from food technology to ceramics, glass-blowing, boxing, gaming, Spanish and drawing, among other things.

However, this only accounts for 50 per cent of the programme, with the other half offered by external experts. There are professional musicians, engineers, programmers, electricians, dancers, make-up artists, hairdressers, firefighters, police officers and mechanics, and their courses range from first-aid to coding. 


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In August each year, these courses are advertised to pupils in schools, who are encouraged to sign up through a tailor-made website.

The courses run for 15 weeks from September to February. After February, when the courses have finished, the emphasis moves over to outdoor activity. The range here is equally impressive: climbing, horse-riding, kayaking, mountain biking, canoeing, sailing and so on.

Enhanced extracurricular activities for schools

Some courses specifically target neurodiverse pupils; these normally focus on soft skills and are led by special educational needs and disability experts. For those having difficulty with transport, a shuttle bus is available.

There are also two full-time extracurricular teachers who offer services all year long and can be booked by any teacher throughout the 30 schools via an online platform to deliver activities to their class within the normal timetable. 

Finance is a clear component of Esbjerg’s success; all of this is made possible with robust and consistent funding. Danish schools have access to more funding than most UK schools: 5.2 per cent of GDP against 4.5 per cent in the UK.

Without a boost in funding, it’s hard to see how the Danish programme could be replicated here.

However, there are a few key takeaways that could still help to inform schools’ extracurricular provision in the UK, many of which are also supported by a recent report from the Social Mobility Commission.

Accountability

An important first step is to have a designated extracurricular coordinator. This role can involve offering support and guidance for teachers, allocating space in timetables and establishing links in the local area.

Heidi Møller is the programme leader in Esbjerg, and a key part of her role throughout the year is quality assurance – in both the planning and implementation phases. On top of that, she conducts performance reviews, provides suggestions and encourages reflective practice. 

A broad church

Schools need to look at the expertise within their whole-school community. Often the onus is on teachers, but flexible staffing should also be considered.

Are there any parents who would be interested in offering a course? Do local libraries or clubs have the capacity to offer something? What about police stations, fire stations or local care communities?

Older students are also often overlooked; could you involve them in the planning process?

Plug the gaps

The curriculum in the UK aims to be broad and balanced, but as schools struggle to cover everything within timetabled hours, it makes sense to use extracurricular provision to offer additional access to subjects that are often sidelined: art, music and sport.

Employers are always warning of a deficit of soft skills – graduates are reported to be missing important technical and workplace skills – and these, too, can be developed through good provision outside of the traditional timetable. 

Collaboration

It may be easy to shrug off this Danish model as only being available to Scandinavian countries with big budgets, but this would be to neglect the importance that collaboration plays.

Møller’s schools and teachers are constantly collaborating and sharing resources in a tightly knit network. Collaboration happens in the UK, too, but this could be more clearly defined, formalised and broadened.

David Kazamias is a teacher of English at Quinoa Schule, Berlin



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