20 things to do before you’re 12, in search of a balanced education


Schools can try these activities with their pupils to bring about a broader education that raises the aspirations of disadvantaged children

Not all hobbies are accessible to pupils – the pursuit of many activities are limited to those who can afford the admission fees and transport costs of getting to a particular location.

Schools legitimately use the pupil premium to pay for disadvantaged children to do things that they would not otherwise afford, recognising that their range of experiences is much narrower than their more fortunate peers.

The pupil premium should be used in pursuit of excellence and equity – and equity can mean levelling the playing field, improving the life chances of disadvantaged young people.

The narrowness of the lives of some children in this advanced country is astonishing. I once taught in a secondary school on a white working-class housing estate, where many of the children had not even been into their local city and had no idea how far it was to the next nearest city. Education is the only hope for broadening the experiences of these children and raising their aspirations beyond their immediate locality.

The same idea is behind the National Trust’s list of 50 things to do before you’re 11 and three-quarters, the aim of which is to get young people engaging more in outdoor pursuits. The list includes climbing a tree, camping in the wild, damming a stream, tracking wild animals and canoeing down a river.

Unsurprisingly, schools that have carried out surveys of their 11-year-olds have found that, on average, disadvantaged children have done fewer of these activities than others.

Increasingly, however, as part of their pupil-premium work, schools have used the principle behind the National Trust list to produce lists of their own 30 or 40 or 50 things to do before 11¾ or 13¾, and have then used the pupil premium to enable all pupils to have this range of experiences.

This is not about taking the whole school to Alton Towers for a day out – it is much more important than that.

In pursuit of both excellence and equity, this is about schools giving children experiences that will underpin and expand their in-class education, increasing their range of skills and knowledge and giving children a richer tapestry on which to build.

Starting with some of the rural activities on the National Trust list, it is good for schools to draw up their own list – and then resource access to these things for children whose families cannot afford them.

With thanks to David Crossley of Whole Education, here’s a start for those drawing up a list for their school:

  1. See a play in a theatre
  2. Attend a professional concert
  3. Visit an art gallery
  4. Visit a museum
  5. Attend a sporting event in a big venue
  6. Do a 'backstage' tour at a sporting venue or theatre
  7. Paddle in the sea
  8. Visit London
  9. Visit the nearest big city
  10. Visit a factory
  11. Travel on a train
  12. Visit a national park
  13. Visit a farm and learn where our food comes from
  14. Go on an outdoor residential
  15. Climb a hill
  16. Make a speech
  17. Design a web page
  18. Do something that benefits others
  19. Learn from failure
  20. Go bird watching

Does your school have a list – and does it resource access to the activities?

Using the above list as a starting point, I encourage schools to make their own – one that’s age-appropriate and right for children and young people in their local community.

You can also reference this list of 100 things you should have done at school before the age of 11 – chosen by primary pupils.

John Dunford is chair of Whole Education, a former secondary head, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, and national pupil-premium champion. His book, The School Leadership Journey, was published in November 2016. He tweets as @johndunford

For more TES columns by John, visit his back catalogue

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