Research Papers in Education, 24(4) pp 439-460

There is overwhelming evidence of the benefits of out‐of‐school learning. It is likely to be particularly important for disadvantaged students who have fewer material and cultural resources in the home to supplement their classroom work. However, despite the research evidence and political moves to promote out‐of‐school learning, it would appear that the provision of such activities is increasingly threatened by resource constraints, regulation and risk aversion. The research reported here set out to investigate how schools experience these and other difficulties and how they differentially affect the provision of and participation in out‐of‐school learning activities. Data, collected through a UK‐wide questionnaire survey and case studies in 12 schools, indicate that there is wide variation in the amount and quality of out‐of‐school learning opportunities that schools provide. The inequalities created by these varying levels and types of provision of out‐of‐school learning activities are compounded by uneven participation. Those schools reporting lower levels of participation were most likely to be those with the highest levels of free school meal eligibility. Particular groups of students that were seen to be ‘missing out’ on learning activities included those from poor homes and from minority ethnic communities (especially Muslim girls). In addition to self‐exclusion from out‐of‐school visits, it would appear that school ‘bans’ on pupil participation are commonplace. These variable patterns of provision and participation reveal significant inequalities in students’ experience of out‐of‐classroom learning.