By Oliver Snowball, Headmaster Eaton House The Manor Girls’ School
After-school clubs offer so much
After-school clubs play an essential part in the life of any school. For that reason, towards the end of each academic year, I ask the Year 6 leavers what they will remember most about their time at Eaton House. ‘Friendships’ are almost always the first response. This is often swiftly followed by memories of after-school clubs.
When I first became a Head, I was somewhat surprised that this aspect of school life featured so prominently. Naively, I had assumed that, in general, girls would have selected clubs to spend more time with their best friend or friends. Other than that, they might want to delay having to tackle that evening’s homework. Or, it might simply be because it was more convenient for parents to collect at 5 pm.
Now, whilst some of those reasons might impact the decision-making process, I have come to realise clubs offer so much more than merely a social space or extended childcare.
Table of contents:
- After-school clubs build confidence
- After-school clubs are a source of joy
- After-school clubs develop communication skills
- After-school clubs are assessment free
- After-school clubs allow friendships to flourish
- The temptation to overload
- Further information
After-school clubs build confidence
One of the key goals for us is to help the girls develop a sense of confidence over the course of their seven-year journey at Eaton House. While there are undoubtedly several contributing factors to confidence and self-belief, trying new activities is a key component. Thus, by having an after-school club programme that offers over 35 optional activities every week, we actively encourage our pupils to adopt a ‘have a go’ mentality.
The nature of the clubs is also fundamental to us, and we strive to provide a wonderful balance of traditional and modern clubs. Sport, art, drama and music clubs sit, for example, alongside Harry Potter Club, Big Questions Philosophy Club and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) Club.
Indeed, two of our most successful clubs in recent years have been Young Enterprise and Gardening Club. The former enables the girls to develop their entrepreneurial skills, and the latter builds an understanding of how to grow plants or vegetables. Before starting such clubs, the girls have often had little to no experience of such activities. This means that they leap into the unknown. Within only a few sessions, however, the impact on their self-belief is palpable. They gain the tremendous feeling of satisfaction that comes with developing a new skill. If we want our children to believe they can pursue any avenue later in life, we must embed this belief early.
After-school clubs are a source of joy
Although it is always great to see the girls launching themselves into something new, clubs also provide a great opportunity to enjoy activities that are already a passion. Whether it be those pursuing a scholarship standard or those who love the subject and are keen to do more of it, clubs offer time. They allow more sport to be played, more art to be created, and more songs to be sung.
Being on-site and run largely by members of the staff team, the girls have no distance to travel and familiar, friendly faces as club leaders. The more the girls attend their chosen club, the more they refine the skill-set involved. Ultimately, this is a double win: the girls have fun whilst getting better at the very thing they enjoy doing.
It is no coincidence that, as we have consciously enhanced our clubs’ programme over the past five years, we have seen a steady increase in the number of girls being awarded scholarships in the 11+ examinations. This is because clubs develop depth of character and richness of experience.
After-school clubs develop communication skills
When we listen to the employers of today talk about the skills they are most looking for in tomorrow's employees, the phrase ‘collaboration and communication skills are often near the top of the list. Therefore, throughout the school day, we are now looking to balance the number of opportunities for independent learning with paired or group tasks. Clubs are one such area.
The majority of our clubs require the girls to adopt a teamwork approach to fulfil the chosen activity. This means that the qualities of adaptability, patience and generosity of spirit will vastly improve the chances of a successful outcome. In this way, the skills we are actively teaching the girls during their timetabled lessons have a safe space to be practised and refined.
After-school clubs are assessment free
In a time where children can feel they are continually assessed, there is something wonderfully liberating about clubs. Thus, whilst we expect a certain standard of behaviour from the girls, we neither mark the outcomes produced in these sessions nor write any reports. These are optional activities that each girl has chosen to do.
I very much celebrate that the girls have taken some ownership in deciding which clubs they want to attend. This is an empowering process and teaches the girls that freedom of choice comes with the responsibility to commit for at least a term.
By removing any potential pressure associated with assessment, it is noticeable that some of the girls become more inclined to take the sort of creative risks they might be reluctant to take during the normal school day. The development achieved during a club, be it a skill or a state of mind, is often carried back into the classroom.
After-school clubs allow friendships to flourish
Like so many features of school life, clubs are about groups of people coming together to learn with and from each other. The girls join clubs because a shared interest or curiosity triggers them, and they can benefit from a wider membership. Indeed, for us, one of the pleasures of running a club is the opportunity it affords to bring girls of different year groups together. This, of course, enables new friendships to flourish as we bring together children who immediately have something in common. However, it also encourages the girls to see that ability is not inextricably linked to age.
There can be a tendency for schools inadvertently to limit the interactions of their pupils. This means that they are only ever working, socialising or competing with their direct peers. The consequence of this is a belief that those in the years above are ‘better’ at any given skill and those in the years below, being younger, are ‘worse.’ Multi-year group clubs instantly break down these assumptions.
How to avoid after-school club overload
I would, however, like to caution against the temptation to overload. I am certainly a great believer in the benefits of clubs, but I am also a great believer in the notion of balance. If we become fixated on the idea that children should constantly be loading up their educational CVs to cement the best possible chance of securing a place at the desired senior school, we are doing them a disservice. Children need downtime at home to rest, to play and also to learn how to entertain themselves.
Thus, whilst I am always quick to encourage parents and girls to make the most of our clubs' provision, I advise a ‘moderation in everything’ approach. Clubs clearly provide memorable experiences, tremendous enjoyment and a range of hugely valuable skills. When used effectively, they can have a wonderfully positive impact on a child’s development and their perception of school. Just ask my Year 6s.
At Eaton House Schools’ there is always a range of after-school clubs. Most of the clubs change each term so that pupils can try lots of different things, but there are a few core staples:
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