Skip to main content

Active Education Beyond the School Day

A Research Review

Lead Authors: Tessa Marshall and Amy Rees 

Edited by Clare Roberts


Over the course of writing, it became clear that several terms and phrases are used to refer to schools opening their facilities to the community. Therefore, the following definitions have been developed for the purpose of this report.

Active Education Settings

A term Sport Wales use to describe schools that provide access to sport and physical activity opportunities beyond the school day, through the utilisation of their facilities when necessary to serve the needs of their community.

Community Focused Schools

A term used in Wales to describe a school that provides a range of services and activities, often beyond the school day, to help meet the needs of its pupils, their families, and the wider community.

Sustainable funding 

A term used to describe funding and support which could be offered to schools to deliver a consistent active education settings offer. It encompasses several elements, such as allocating funding on a longer-term cycle, long-term planning and support, and appropriate monitoring and evaluation of spending.


This desk-based research paper explores the use of school facilities to provide sports and activities ‘beyond the school day,’ meaning either before, at lunchtime, after the school day, as well as during weekends and school holidays. In line with the Welsh Government’s Programme for Government 2021-26, which prioritises exploring the extension and reform of the school day, Sport Wales has conducted this research to inform policy and practice in this area, including the enablers and barriers to this Governmental priority. 

This research paper identifies that the opening of school facilities outside of the traditional school day; when delivered in collaboration with key stakeholders, based on insight into pupil and community need, whilst being implemented by ambitious leaders, and supported with consistent and sustainable funding, can make sporting opportunities more accessible. This research clearly shows that this policy initiative can build positive and sustainable relationships between the school and community and increase engagement in sport and physical activity. 

This paper: 

  • Seeks to identify good practice, enablers, and challenges which schools face when opening their facilities to local communities
  • Identifies emerging themes
  • Outlines the possibilities available when schools open their facilities beyond the school day.

Currently, globally - there is no ‘textbook way’ to deliver the opening of school facilities to the public. Key themes were present across many of the successful projects identified and included ambitious leadership, community cooperation, engagement with local sporting providers, insight and needs led, flexibility of schools and providers, and consistent and sustainable funding. In all cases, innovative and engaging activities were provided to pupils, parents, and community members, which resulted in an improvement in community cohesion and educational outcomes, high quality, sustainable sporting offers, accessible facilities, an improvement in health and wellbeing and long-term increases in engagement with sport and physical activity. 

In Wales, at present, there is no standardised approach to opening school facilities beyond the school day, or monitoring and evaluating the impact of the diverse programmes on offer. There is a disparity in the provision, with local schools leading their own programmes, local authorities running programmes, or national governing bodies supporting programmes. But in some part of Wales, schools currently have no community offering.[1] As a result, the significant benefits available to pupils and communities are disproportionate across Wales. 

Over the course of the research paper, the key role headteachers, teachers, and sporting staff have in developing and providing services which address the needs of pupils, parents, and community has become clear. It is their positive engagement and vision for better health, wellbeing, sporting and educational achievement within the communities they serve, that creates quality experiences and better outcomes.All offers demonstrated the value of staff having time, support, and opportunities to collaborate, and how this enabled the development of accessible programmes and activities which provided opportunities for sport, physical activity, play, and fun, which in turn, improved the health and wellbeing of all.

The long-term benefits to communities from opening school facilities are wide-ranging. The challenges and benefits found by each school vary, but what remains consistent is the demonstrable increase in engagement with sport and physical activity when schools open their facilities. Opening school facilities to create active education settings would remove a key barrier to engagement by providing communities an accessible and varied sporting offer on their doorstep. Evidence demonstrates the positive impact opening school facilities has on individuals and communities, despite challenges such as Covid-19. An accessible and collaborative sporting offer at a school setting provides a sustainable, long-term opportunity for communities to engage in sporting opportunities, whilst improving health and wellbeing.


Throughout the research, common practice between schools in the UK and across the globe demonstrated key themes which led to the creation of a successful active education offering. The themes include: 

  1. Ambitious leadership 
    Headteachers, governors and senior leadership teams are essential in driving successful community schools. Common to all senior leadership was the recognition that opening school facilities can address health inequalities, improve wellbeing, and create a safe space for children and their families. 
  2. Collaboration
    Successful models put time into the building of trusted relationships with local, regional, and national partners to identify how facilities could be used to improve outcomes and respond to community needs. Projects led by a national facilitator encouraging local collaboration, such as sportscotland’s programme or that in Wrexham secured significant successes.
  3. Insight and Needs Led 
    By identifying the needs of pupils and communities, schools developed an engaging, responsive sporting offer which reflected the interests and needs of pupils and the local community. Seeking out quality insight enabled partnerships between schools, community, and authorities, which supported an increased collaboration, creating an engaging community sporting offer. 
  4. Consistent and Sustainable Funding 
    The success of projects often resulted from consistent, long-term funding. A consistent and flexible financial commitment can support schools to open their facilities to the community and is best placed to achieve long-term improvements to health and wellbeing.


There were similar themed challenges facing schools, groups, and organisations seeking to provide an active offer to pupils beyond the school day. These included:

  1. A lack of understanding of the value of opening school facilities
    School governors, headteachers, and the senior leadership team can struggle to understand the value of opening school facilities beyond the school day. Providing senior leadership with the benefits to health and wellbeing through opening their facilities to the community, led to leaders taking steps to develop an active education setting.
  2. Safeguarding and risk
    Due to the importance of safeguarding at school, some schools felt inviting third-party providers onto their site would present a risk. However, no schools or organisations reported any safeguarding issues or damage to facilities. Cooperation with a variety of stakeholders helped leadership teams take steps to reduce risks and ensure all safeguarding procedures were implemented. 
  3. Cost – capacity and finance 
    A variety of costs could present a barrier to the opening of the school beyond the school day. Sustainable financial support, in addition to one off payments from the supporting body, helped schools improve facilities, buy new equipment, pay staff for additional working hours, or cover additional costs. 
  4. Facilities
    Where it was felt school facilities were not of an appropriate standard to open beyond the school day, programmes provided some financial assistance to schools to address the issue. One off payment, or innovative planning of school sites could address issues with school facilities. In Wales, the 21st Century schools programme means many schools have modern, accessible facilities. 
  5. Covid-19
    Covid-19 did not constitute a significant barrier to the delivery of activities when the nation was not in a lockdown period. Schools ‘handing over’ sporting facilities to clubs had minimal mixing between teachers and providers. For many, Covid-19 demonstrated the importance of opening facilities to pupils and community and help them improve their health and wellbeing. 

Continuous monitoring, evaluating, learning and development

Key factors ensure schools can be impactful, sustainable active education settings. Key factors include:

  • ambitious leadership
  • consistent and sustainable funding
  • an approach that is led by insights and needs
  • collaboration between community, school, and key stakeholders

By having the above, opening school facilities beyond the school day can deliver the following benefits:

  • improved educational outcomes
  • improved relationships between the school and community
  • a quality and sustainable sporting offer for every community
  • quality and accessible facilities
  • improved health and wellbeing over the long-term
  • increased engagement with sports and physical activity over the long-term

Continuous monitoring, evaluation, learning, and development is crucial for ensuring programmes are sustainable. As key factors and contexts change, schools can use insight gathered via monitoring processes to be responsive to change. Using insight, schools can then amend their programme to address changes, and continue to deliver impactful, sustainable, and needs-based active education settings, securing the related benefits for the long-term.

Welsh Practice 

The development of community focused schools in the early 2000’s demonstrates the potential for using school facilities as a base for community activities which could raise the status of learning and teaching in local communities. The Community Focused Schools Grant enabled schools to open their facilities beyond the school day, to provide services to the community such as childcare, lifelong learning, youth services, and cultural and sporting activities. Reports by Estyn and snippets from ContinYou Cymru emphasise one of the main benefits of the community focused schools grant was the improved access to school sporting and IT facilities, and successful partnership working was a key feature of some of the most successful community focused schools. 

The impact of the Grant can be seen in the continued delivery of community focused schools without dedicated financial support in Wales. Welsh policy, practice, and experience discussed in the full report and appendices shows there are a variety of means and methods possible which can result in the successful opening of school facilities beyond the school day. However, at present, Welsh practice is ad hoc and disconnected, and the impact of the programmes are difficult to measure, making it challenging to determine the impact opening school facilities has had. School practice demonstrates the need to establish a process to ensure the quality provision of opportunities, access to transport to and from school, the need to provide a sustainable offer, and the requirement for at least one school staff member to stay on longer than usual to monitor the school site. Therefore, although looking to Welsh practice can offer some insight, it is the UK and international examples which offer a deeper understanding of the impact of opening school facilities beyond the school day. 


In England in the mid 2010’s, a shift in intent in the delivery of sport and physical activity led to a focus on collaboration, resulting in the first wave of the ‘Opening School Facilities’ project. The project opened school facilities beyond the school day, and 23 Active Partnerships were provided with £1.5 million to work directly with 230 targeted primary and secondary schools over 15 months in 2019. The funding supported the schools to open their doors to the community and utilise assets to encourage physical activity, improve health and wellbeing, and secure an additional funding stream. 

The project provides significant learning regarding the opening of school facilities for use by school clubs, including identifying what successful practice looks like across different regions and hundreds of schools. One of the key findings in the of the full report was that schools wanted to collaborate with people across the community to address the challenges present. Such motivation contrasted with the profit motive which initially informed the development of the project. The profit motive, despite potentially creating a small financial benefit for schools, drove competition rather than collaboration – the opposite of what the project sought to achieve. As a result, the systemic and behavioural change approach, which recognises the need for all community members and sporting staff to collaborate to achieve success has been adopted for wave 2 and 3 of the project. Overall, the first wave of the project demonstrates the importance of engaging early with schools to support them to develop a sound vision and mission which reflects the needs and requirements of the pupils and the communities they serve, encouraging collaboration to ensure success.


Scottish practice differs from that of England and Wales. Sportscotland works directly with all 32 Scottish Local Authorities in order to deliver Active Schools for over 20 years. The policy draws on two sportscotland initiatives from the 1990’s, – the School Sport Coordinator Programme and the Active Primary School Pilot Programme - which were put in place to provide higher quality opportunities for pupils to take place in sport and physical activity and emphasising the UNCRC.The programme is delivered by volunteers, who make up 89% of the workforce, the majority of whom being pupils, parents, teachers, and the wider community. With opportunities for leadership, awards, work experience, and training, as well as opportunities for coaches, event competition organisers, technical officials, and decision makers, the programme supports the long-term physical literacy of children and young people, whilst upskilling community sport providers.Challenges included difficulty retaining volunteers for the long term and schools in rural and deprived areas struggling to recruit and retain volunteers. Yet for the most part, the evaluation of the programme in the full report demonstrates the programme has increased community participation, enhanced school to club pathways, developed sustainable community sport, increased access to sport for disabled people, and created more vibrant PE departments across Scotland. 

The model demonstrates the long-term benefits of investing in schools as hubs for physical activity, investing in local authorities as key stakeholders in the delivery of sport and physical activity, and the holistic benefits such investments can bring to local pupils, parents, and clubs. For those in rural areas or areas of multiple deprivation, the Active Schools programme brings important benefits to the health and wellbeing of participants, ensuring they can be healthy and active for little to no cost in accessible and quality settings. Overall, the sportscotland Active Schools programme provides important insight into how high-quality opportunities to engage in physical activity can be delivered across a variety of geographic and socio-economic disparities effectively and sustainably. 

Northern Ireland 

In Northern Ireland, several interventions have been developed to encourage physical activity and sport, as well as providing communities with access to services in schools. The Department of Education provides support for schools relating to opening schools beyond the school day, with advice, guidance, and funding available to support the development of effective community offerings which meet a variety of pupil, family, and community needs, with a specific focus to addressing deprivation, specifically funding programmes in 1/3 of Northern Ireland’s most disadvantaged areas. Launched as a voluntary programme, and with almost £9 million in funding distributed, the programme connects local people with local services, around a central outcome of ‘living in a society which respects their rights.’ 

Schools in receipt of funding have recognised the benefits of providing a community offering. The wide-ranging provisions create considerable benefits for pupils, parents, and community, including reducing barriers to learning, improving physical health and wellbeing, and increasing parental involvement in schools. The success of the programme led to the implementation of a three-year funding cycle in 2018/19. Due to the importance of the programme, any budget cuts which occur could potentially cut crucial support from vulnerable pupils. As such, any programme and funding must be provided in a sustainable manner to ensure no children are left behind due to cuts. The innovation and cooperation employed in implementing the project demonstrates the wide-ranging positive impact which can be developed by schools supported with additional funding and capacity to engage with their partners and colleagues. From raising standards for pupils and reducing barriers to learning, to improving the learning environment, and supporting schools to become community hubs, Extended Schools creates high-value impact for schools and communities. 

International Practice 

In addition to provision of active education settings across the UK, the practice of opening school facilities to local communities has become a common global practice. This section seeks to identify just some areas of practice within North America and Europe, which demonstrates the variety of creative means and methods schools employ to open their facilities to the public. 


Community schools have a long history in the United States of America (U.S) and are varied according to city, district, and school. Advocates for community schools in the U.S have helped the community school’s movement grow by promoting the policy at the federal, state, and local levels. A variety of approaches, from district-wide adoption of the community school strategy to the creation of local community schools have been supported by local stakeholders such as school boards. At present, community schools in the U.S are funded by grants or charitable donations, but sources often change whom they provide resources for, and federal funding only supports a few grantees. Therefore, consistent and sustainable funding to support core roles and structures of a community school is crucial for the sustainability of the programmes. Further, practice in the U.S places a premium on the ‘four pillars of community schools.’ Oakes, Maier and Daniel (2017) describe these as:

  1. Collaborative leadership - A culture of shared governance and collective decision-making toward a unified vision to identify needs and provide resources in the school and community.
  2. Expanded Learning Time and Opportunities - Academic support and enrichment that take place before and after school, during weekends and summer, to augment traditional learning during the school day.
  3. Wellness support – access to a range of health and social services; and,
  4. Family and community engagement – Bringing families and the community into the school as partners in student’s success. Making the school a neighbourhood centre that provides adult enrichment opportunities.

This model of community use of facilities relies on each of the four pillars working together synergistically to ensure effective provision. The four pillars demonstrate the value high-level collaborative partnerships can bring to pupils, families, and local communities, offering a sustainable view to the needs-based provision of community focused activities. The employment of dedicated staff and the implementation of an organisational structure, offers a wide-ranging and integrated view to the provision of community focused activities. 

The American Institute of Research (AIR) has also identified key drivers for successful implementation of community schools through their work with the Community Schools Initiative administered by Chicago Public Schools, the Florida Community Partnership Schools model, and the Pittsburgh Public Schools Community Schools Initiative. Key aspects of the programme included developing a shared vision, creating truly collaborative partnerships, and fully integrating and coordinating student and family opportunities for learning. 

European Practice 

European practice of community schools varies, with some countries developing frameworks and policies for a nation-wide approach, whilst others adopt the ideas, ethos, and philosophy of community schooling very broadly. In France and Sweden, decentralisation has become a feature of schooling, making schools more open to external partnerships. In France, programmes promote a break between morning and afternoon lessons where pupils can take part in leisure and cultural activities off site. In Sweden, publicly funded free time services are organised in school for children aged 6-12. In Germany, community schools provide day-care, and are referred to as ‘all-day’ schools which attempt to tackle educational and social problems. 

The Netherlands 

The development of ‘Brede Scholen’ that is, ‘community schools’, in the Netherlands is one of the most significant instances of community focused schools in Europe. Community schools were driven by the Flemish Minister of Labour, Education, and Training. ‘The Road to Community Schools’ policy paper resulted in subsidies for 17 pilot projects between 2006 and 2009, which identified the importance of Local Authorities in responding to the needs of children and young people and ensuring the community school is responsive to this need. Therefore, schools seek to combine current good designs, practices and projects in education and youth work related areas. A variety of approaches are used, including back-to-back, face-to-face, hand-in-hand, and cheek-to-cheek collaboration. For example, back-to-back collaboration sees comprises of shared buildings, but there is no collaboration in terms of content, whereas in cheek-to-cheek collaboration, the different stakeholders consider each other as one common organisation. 


In Flanders, the VGC (Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie or Flemish Community Commission) is the hub of the Flemish Community in the Brussels-Capital Region. They operate transversally and provide financial support to fund staff, operational activities for community schools, and have developed a guidance framework for implementing community schools.The framework consists of five complementary components - sports and physical activity during lunch break, active schoolyards or playgrounds, active commuting to school, health education policy, and after-school sports and physical activity. The framework is reinforced by partnerships between schools and other community stakeholders such as the municipal services, community sports clubs, and social community programmes. Moreover, in Brussels, Community Schools are viewed as a lever to address four of Brussels main challenges - to provide (i) equal opportunities (ii) parental involvement (ii) multilingualism and (iv) diversity. By engaging local sports clubs to introduce pupils to less familiar sports, the community schooling initiative maximises development opportunities for children and increases their interest and engagement in sport and physical activity.


Overall, the key role school facilities can have in developing and providing active education settings beyond the school day to address the needs of pupils, parents, and community has become clear. By opening school facilities, headteachers share their positive vision for better health, wellbeing, and sporting and educational achievement in their communities and create quality experiences and better outcomes for all. The development of accessible programmes and activities which provide opportunities for sport, physical activity, play, and fun to pupils, parents, and community members improve the health and wellbeing of all for the long-term. By developing a sustainable, collaborative programme, schools and teachers are able to increase capacity and develop an accessible, effective, and engaging sporting offer beyond the school day. Placing community and pupil need at the heart of any Active Education Setting will secure success for schools and result in real benefits for children, young people, parents, and their communities across Wales.