The cost of after-school activities in the UK: how much do parents spend?

Research Report
September 2014

The cost of raising a child in the UK, or "the cost of parenting", continues to soar with parents estimated to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on their children by the time they’ve reached the age of 21. Childcare and education form the largest part of this expenditure and look set to continue to do so, especially with the rising costs of university education.

Whilst childcare and education costs may seem like essential expenses that cannot be forgone, there are a huge number of other costs associated with children that collectively add up to put a strain on parents’ pockets across the country. The rise in the number of families with both parents in full-time employment, coupled with the culture of wanting children to excel in both sport and academic subjects, have led to an increase in the amount of afterschool clubs and activities that children are attending. However, a survey conducted by Save the Children found that after-school activities are considered too expensive by almost two-thirds of parents in the UK. Despite this, many are still forking out for these additional classes for fear of their children being shunned at school or missing out on a vital part of their upbringing if they do not attend.

people wortking The prevalence of extra-curricular activities is further highlighted by the recent boom in the UK tuition market. Despite ever-growing expenditure figures, parents are collectively still choosing to spend an additional £6bn a year on private tuition iv . The rising demand for tutoring services is commonplace in the news, with the media often emphasising the additional cost to parents for this supplementary form of education. Whilst not diametrically opposed, private tuition and other after-school activities such as sports clubs offer very different value propositions but both sit within the same expenditure bracket. So how does the cost of tuition compare with other after-school activities and the various costs associated with school-aged children? Which are the most popular activities and how does this spending on activities differ according to age and location? Ultimately, how much are parents spending on extra-curricular activities for their children?

Tuition is often viewed as elitist and a luxury form of supplementary education that provides an unfair advantage limited to the well-off families that can afford it. Conor Ryan, director of research at Sutton Trust comments: "While many schools offer a range of sporting and other activities outside regular school hours, there is still a substantial advantage available to those who can afford it. If we are serious about improving social mobility we must narrow the gap in educational opportunities outside of school as well as within the classroom."

But for many children, the one-to-many classroom method of teaching is not enough in order for them to succeed in the subjects they find most difficult and tuition is, therefore, considered by some parents to be almost a necessity. Parents are having to prioritise their spending when it comes to extra-curricular activities which are becoming increasingly unaffordable for many families. The desire to provide children access to the best possible opportunities is conflicting with budgetary constraints. So just how affordable is tuition in comparison to other after-school activity costs? Maths Doctor, the UK’s award-winning provider of live online maths tuition, wanted to investigate how much parents are spending on their children and conducted extensive market research to gain a greater insight into the cost of extra-curricular activities for children across London.

This initial study focuses specifically on the costs of extra-curricular activities across London, with a general look to the rest of the UK. Subsequent research will look to compare the costs of these activities at a nationwide and, later, international level.

Methodology

There were two main stages involved in the collection of data for this research project which took place over a period of six months starting in January 2014. Firstly, a total of 1098 parents were surveyed with questions relating to the after-school activities attended by their children. Then, in an attempt to validate the data associated with costs, further research was carried out, as detailed below.

For the purposes of this study, definitions of key terms were determined to help ensure the consistency of results:

After-school activity - an extra-curricular, paid-for programme for school-aged children which is not organised by a child’s school and is externally funded (primarily by a child’s parent or guardian).

Primary school – based on the British state-school system, children attend primary school between the ages of 7-11, starting in Reception aged 4/5 and continuing to Year 6, aged 11.

Secondary school – children attend secondary school between the ages of 11 and 16 before making the optional decision to further their education. For the purposes of this study, secondary school children are defined as those in Year 7 or later up until and including the age of 18.

Survey

Maths Doctor commissioned a survey of parents of children aged 4-18 living in London postcodes and received a total of 1098 qualified respondents. To qualify as respondents, parents had to have one or more children who attend at least one after-school activity; those who do not spend on extracurricular activities were excluded from this study. There was limited data for children aged 4-6 so where Primary school children are referenced henceforth, this relates to children in Years 3-6. As well as providing an idea of the costs of after-school activities, the survey also revealed information such as the most popular activities amongst children of different ages and how many they attend. A vast amount of qualitative feedback was also collected and used to provide additional insight when analysing the findings.

Because the qualitative feedback proved so valuable, 20 parents were invited to take part in individual focus groups which allowed for any outstanding questions to be answered and a greater understanding of parents’ attitudes towards both tuition and the overall cost of parenting.

Market research

It was important to validate the results of the survey in terms of the costs of after-school activities with accurate data because, based on qualitative feedback, many parents did not know the exact cost per session or only knew a rough estimate. This was often due to payments being made on a monthly or termly basis, rather than per individual session. At this stage, the list of activities for which validation attempts were made, was reduced due to a lack of data for less popular activities. The most popular after-school activities were determined to be (in alphabetical order):

  • Dance
  • Drama
  • Driving
  • Guides/Scouts
  • Guitar
  • Gymnastics
  • Horseriding
  • Karate
  • Language learning
  • Piano
  • Singing lessons
  • Speech & elocution
  • Swimming (1-to-1)
  • Swimming (group)
  • Tennis
  • Theatre school
  • Violin

A number of methods were employed for validation purposes and to find an average of the costs of different after-school activities in four areas of London and the rest of the UK. These included searching company websites, online forums such as Mumsnet and netmums.com, and calling service providers. The hourly costs from up to 50 providers of each activity were found and an average then calculated for the four corners of London and the rest of the UK. The London areas were defined as N&NE, E&SE, S&SW and W&NW and suppliers were categorised into one of the four sectors by postcode.

For both group activities and those that are conducted in a one-to-one setting i.e. where a child receives individual tuition/attention from a single instructor/teacher, the cost of an hour-long session was found so that comparisons could be drawn across the board. Where figures were given as monthly or termly rates, the data was normalised to provide figures for an hourly session. A distinction was made between group and one-to-one sessions as this significantly affects pricing

After gathering this data from both the survey and the various other sources, the average cost for each activity was found for the four areas of London and suburban surrounding areas, and the UK. The UK data was found to be similar in nature and was thus grouped together. Comparisons were then drawn between activities and locations.

Summary of findings

It was found that primary school children engaged in an average of 3.2 activities per week, which decreases to an average of 1.7 amongst secondary school aged children. Among the reasons cited for this decrease the most common were:

  • Having less leisure time due to an increased amount of homework
  • Preferring to spend time with friends rather than attending organised activities
  • Spending more time online
  • Needing to dedicate time to studying and revising for the increased number of exams and class tests at Secondary school

The types of activities that children engage in also varied between Primary and Secondary school children, with sports clubs becoming much more popular amongst older children. This also applied to age-dependent activities like driving, replacing those such as swimming and drama which are far more common amongst Primary school children.

Most popular activities amongst primary school children:

  1. Swimming lessons
  2. Musical instrument tuition
  3. Drama clubs
  4. Dance
  5. Guides/Scouts

Most popular activities amongst secondary school children:

  1. Sport clubs
  2. Musical instrument tuition
  3. Dance
  4. Driving lessons
  5. Guides/Scouts

Interestingly, the day of the week in which children attend extra-curricular activities also varied across the Primary and Secondary school age brackets. Primary school children are much more likely to attend activities after school during the working week, with many parents citing necessary "down-time" as the reason for keeping the weekends free. Other common responses also included a desire to keep weekends free for visiting relatives and going to children’s parties which often take place on a Saturday. In contrast, older children tend to be more likely to attend clubs or, for example, schedule driving lessons at the weekend when they have more free time.

The average cost per hour session of an after-school activity in London is £21.79. Despite the overall average cost being 36% more expensive in London than the rest of the UK, prices still vary significantly across London. South & South-West London is the most expensive place in London for afterschool activities with an average hourly cost of £24.18, compared to North & North-West London, which is the cheapest area with an average cost of £18.40. These price differences in someway reflect the differences in house prices across the city, with the UK’s most expensive borough, Kensington and Chelsea, situated in South-West London.

Average hourly cost of after-school activities in London areas

London area Average hourly cost/session
S&SW £24.18
E&SE £20.38
N&NE £19.35
W&NW £18.40

Based on a cost per session of £21.79 and a child attending 3.2 activities per week, parents in London spend a weekly average of £69.73 on afterschool activities per child, with some parents spending in excess of a staggering £1,000 per month if their child were to attend 7 clubs (this was the maximum number stated in the survey results). If the parent has two children attending the same amount of activities, this weekly average cost could rise to £139.46, and a monthly cost of £557.84 respectively. This contrasts to findings for the rest of the UK, where the weekly average is 30% less with an average spend closer to £50 per child.

Weekly spend on after-school activities in London and the UK

Age Number of activities attended Average weekly spend Top weekly spend
Average Range London UK London UK
Primary 3.2 1-7 £69.73 £51.46 £273.84 £228.69
Secondary 1.7 1-5 £37.04 £27.34 £195.60 £163.35

Monthly spend on after-school activities in London and the UK

Age Number of activities attended Average weekly spend Top weekly spend
Average Range London UK London UK
Primary 3.2 1-7 £278.91 £205.82 £1,095.36 £914.76
Secondary 1.7 1-5 £148.17 £109.34 £782.40 £653.40

These figures are surprisingly high considering they incorporate only the hourly rates of each activity and do not take into account additional costs and fees such as those required for equipment, outfits/costumes and examinations/competitions. In general, activities that require a subscription or membership such as karate and gymnastics work out to be better value than activities that are paid for on a pay-as-you-go basis such as musical instrument lessons or language tuition. This is often because sessions are flexible and there is the opportunity to attend more sessions per week rather than a single regular weekly slot. Activities where the child receives one-toone attention from an instructor are on average 173% more expensive than group activities which reflects the additional value that the one-to-one attention offers.

The tables below show the cheapest and most expensive after-school activities in London, with the corresponding UK price for each activity. These figures highlight the vast price differential between group and one-to-one activities.

Cheapest after-school activities in London and the UK

Activity Average cost
London UK
Gymnastics £9.10 £7.73
Theatre school £9.00 £9.00
Dance £8.92 £7.50
Karate £5.67 £3.00
Guides/Scouts £3.00 £3.00

Most expensive after-school activities in London and the UK

Activity Average cost
London UK
Horseriding £46.25 £33.00
Swimming (1-to-1) £36.10 £18.17
Piano £35.00 £30.00
Language Learning £33.00 £20.00
Guitar £32.00 £20.00

Tuition

The additional value associated with one-to-one teaching or instruction was also the most commonly cited reason for parents choosing to get a tutor for their child: the belief that individual, personal attention is what children require in order to reach their target grades. With infant class sizes in state schools now reaching highs of 36 children per class, it’s no wonder that some children are failing to get the individual attention they require at school alone. Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said the size of these infant classes, with just one teacher, was damaging pupils’ progress.vii On top of this, it seems parents are becoming increasingly sceptical of the traditional, one-size-fits-all classroom teaching approach and, not being familiar with the curriculum themselves, are finding supplementary tuition to be the best solution to support their children’s learning. A separate survey carried out by Maths Doctor revealed that 40 per cent of adults find their child's homework too hard to understand, adding that it was too difficult to keep up with their child's education and be able to help them with their homework.

This may also go someway in explaining the finding that the number of children receiving tuition increased significantly at the Secondary school level compared to children still in Primary school. That said, tuition for the 11+ entrance exams is a growing market and accounts for the majority of those having tuition at the Primary school level in London. Qualitative feedback suggests this increase in tuition between Primary and Secondary school levels to be a result of a desire to get into good schools and universities and the exam pressure that accompanies this.

Interestingly, a large proportion of the surveyed parents were not averse to spending £50+/hour for a tutor if the quality of the tuition justified the cost and enabled their child to reach their target or required grades. Despite an overall consensus amongst the surveyed parents that tuition is considered to be expensive, many felt that it was a worthwhile, if not necessary, outgoing and would not be willing to sacrifice tuition in favour of other non-academic after-school activities. However, most parents classed tuition as a separate category to after-school activities and felt that, if required, it should be conducted in addition to any activities their children wish to pursue.

So how does the cost of tuition compare with other after-school activities? With the cost of tutoring in the UK varyingly hugely from as little as £5 per hour right up to £100+ for the expertise of a so-called “super tutor”, it is difficult draw meaningful comparisons to other activities in terms of price alone. Instead it may make more sense to consider that the average London

Parent of a primary school child already spends almost £300 per month on after-school activities. With the gains made possible through one-to-one tuition and the opportunities that good grades can open up for children, we should view tuition, where required, not as expensive, but rather as great value for money.

Conclusion

With a commitment to improvement, parents could be required to invest almost £1,200 per year per academic subject in private tuition fees -meaning that London parents could be spending more than £3,000 per year, per child on private tuition and after-school activities. This excludes additional activities such as cinema trips, theme parks, holiday spending or other ancillary expenditure. Whilst costs decrease outside of London, Maths Doctor data also shows that the likelihood to spend on tuition is higher amongst families living in London. This spending trend adds a cost of living factor differential to living in London. Parents are likely to have to pay more for after-school activities as well as spend on tuition of some sort, especially in certain areas of London.

The results of this study demonstrate that where parents do spend on discretionary after-school activities for their children, the outlay can be significant. With private tuition becoming more commonplace in what is becoming an increasingly competitive education system, parents could be spending in excess of £3,000 per child each year, with many spending much more. This spending on private tuition and after-school activities is turning into an entry level cost for parents in the capital looking to give their children diverse and the best opportunities in life. The study shows that whilst parents across the country are equally likely to spend on their children, the earning capacity of parents living in certain areas of London needs to be significantly higher to cater not only for the cost of living, but also for the "cost of parenting".

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