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The Health and Extra-curricular Project: The role of extra-curricular activities in reducing smoking among adolescents

The Health and Extra-curricular Project was a Healthway funded formative project which aimed to explore the role school extra-curricular activities play in developing and maintaining secondary students’ connectedness to school and how this construct impacts on the subsequent outcomes of cigarette smoking and other drug use.

The study built on the Western Australian Department of Education and Training’s Taskforce report titled Investing in Government Schools: Putting Children First. Evidence in the literature strongly supports the positive impact of extra-curricular activities in increasing and maintaining student’s connectedness to school. It is also well documented that students who are better connected to school are less likely to smoke or use other drugs and are more successful at school. Despite this evidence, little is known about the relationship between extra-curricular activities to health compromising behaviours and educational outcomes.

The project consisted of three major stages. The first stage involved consultation with key WA health and education stakeholders to ascertain the potential benefits of and barriers to program participation and implementation. Stakeholders were asked to identify examples of schools exhibiting best practice in extra-curricular programs. The second stage of the project involved a sample of 14 WA Government and Non-government high schools identified by stakeholders in the first stage as best practice examples in extra-curricular programs. School staff and students were consulted regarding their perceptions of the role extra-curricular activities play on cigarette smoking, other drug use, educational outcomes and school connectedness. Staff and student perceptions of the benefits and barriers to participation in, and implementation of, extra-curricular activities were also explored through focus group and telephone interview techniques. Staff were asked to complete an audit of their school’s extra-curricular programs and participated in a follow-up telephone interview. The final stage of the project involved conducting cost description analyses of the extra-curricular audit data supplied by schools.

Several pro-social benefits were identified for students who participate in extra-curricular activities including: social and interpersonal skill development; positive relationship development with teachers; improved physical health; leadership opportunities; teamwork; enhanced mental well-being and self-worth; and providing positive, safe and structured environments for students to use in their spare time. Potential barriers to schools providing extra-curricular activities were increasing teachers’ workloads and legal issues including insurance (especially liability and duty of care). Students identified barriers to their participation in extra-curricular activities: cost of some activities; working parents; school and homework commitments; dislike of some activities offered; and laziness.

Four recommendations arise from this research: 1) Potential health and education benefits of extra-curricular programs should be promoted to schools; 2) Restructure teachers’ workloads to accommodate their involvement in extra-curricular programs by: paying staff; more flexible time-release from teaching; or restructuring to allow time for activities during school day; 3) Teachers and schools need clarification and education sector support to deal with legal liability and duty of care issues; and 4) More research is required to quantify relationships between extra-curricular activities, connectedness and health and educational outcomes. Finally, more research is required to illuminate theoretical frameworks for how extra-curricular activity impacts on health and educational outcomes via mediators such as connectedness and to quantify these relationships. In 2004 the Child Health Promotion Research Centre secured funding for a longitudinal study to quantify the benefits of involvement in extra-curricular activities by secondary school students. For more information see the Extra-curricular Project web page

Project duration


Funding body

School Drug Education Project


Canterbury District Health Board, Christchurch, New Zealand, Dr Greg Hamilton
Professor Donna Cross
Associate Professor Marg Hall

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