Students in state education in the UK say their schools fail to provide enough middle class extra-curricular activities such as debating, volunteering or camping compared with their peers in private schools, according to a study backed by the Scout Association.
The survey of 1,000 pupils in secondary schools across Britain found that pupils in the state sector had less access to such activities outside the curriculum, but that the pupils themselves were eager for more.
Children on free school meals were among those with the fewest opportunities to be involved in school-led charity work or outdoor events such as horse riding, but were in fact more likely to be involved in creative activities such as art or drama, as well as sport.
While more than 85% of pupils at fee-paying schools said they took part in extra-curricular activities through their school, just 72% of pupils at state secondaries and primaries reported they did.
As a result, around three-quarters of state school pupils said their school did not provide enough in the way of debating, volunteering or outdoor experiences other than sport, compared with less than half of those at independent schools.
The survey comes in a report published by the thinktank Demos, which claims â€œlarge numbers of young people in the UK â€“ particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds â€“ do not have enough opportunity to take part in non-formal learning and are therefore at risk of not developing key skills important for success.â€
A survey of teachers for the report â€“ funded by the Scout Association â€“ found that nearly 90% of teachers blamed lack of time for being unable to provide extra-curricular activities.
Jonathan Birdwell, head of citizenship and political participation at Demos and the reportâ€™s co-author, said the results showed how highly activities designed to promote social capital, such as debating, were valued by pupils in state schools.
â€œIt also unearths worrying inequalities in the opportunities that are available for children to participate in them,â€ Birdwell said.
â€œWhile schools are doing their best to close the gap, we cannot ignore the fact that children on free school meals are conscious they are receiving fewer opportunities, and that teachers feel too constrained by timetabling commitments to deliver them.â€
Hannah Kentish, the Scout Associationâ€™s UK youth commissioner, said that such non-formal learning should be embedded as a permanent fixture in the school system.
â€œIf we are serious about giving all young people the very best chance to become active citizens, we need to do more of this work,â€ Kentish said.
While state schools are constrained by tight budgets of less than Â£6,000 per pupil and the demands of the national curriculum, in many cases, independent schools charging an average of Â£14,000 per day pupil have more freedom to offer extra-curricular resources to their students.
The report comes as Englandâ€™s education secretary, Nicky Morgan, has championed character development in state schools. But critics say that timetables are already overwhelmed thanks to academic pressures and the need to teach subjects such as British values, leaving little time for horse riding.
The survey also found more enthusiasm for the Scout movement among pupils on free school meals than among their better-off peers. Some 39% said they would like to be part of the Scouts, compared with just 23% of those not receiving free school meals.