All good schools offer a rigorous academic programme, but none of them stops there. Extra-curricular activities, once perceived as frills or add-ons to 'real school', are increasingly taking their place as an integral part of both a school's identity and appeal. It is no longer enough - especially at expensive international schools - to hire a band teacher and a few coaches for popular sports such as table tennis, badminton, volleyball, rugby and soccer. What about rock climbing and windsurfing? And don't forget chess, ultimate frisbee, water polo and other non-traditional sports. Opportunity and variety are the key. Ideally, there should be something for everyone in the extra-curricular life of a school. The Creativity, Action and Service (CAS) programme, offered at all English Schools Foundation secondary schools among others that have adopted the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma, epitomises this quest for variety and balance in school life. The programme requires students of the IB - a rigorous, widely recognised pre-university course of study - to dedicate at least 150 hours to sport, the arts and community service during their two-year quest for a diploma. This could mean anything from scuba diving in the school swimming pool or acting in a play to caring for orphans in Thailand or Cambodia. 'CAS and the IB are about creating a balanced, rounded person,' said Paul Bayne, CAS co-ordinator at the ESF's West Island School. 'It takes us back to the days of the Renaissance. The IB is very much about a holistic education.' According to Mr Bayne, 173 IB students are fully involved in CAS at West Island, but non-IB students are also encouraged to take part in the programme, in the upper, middle and lower schools. West Island also suspends classes for a week every year - 'Horizons Week' - during which students are fully immersed in CAS projects. Last year, these projects included golfing in Thailand, an ecology tour in New Zealand and working in orphanages in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. In Hong Kong, students have worked as teaching assistants at the Jockey Club Sarah Roe School for children with severe learning disabilities, taught English to underprivileged students in Sham Shui Po and distributed food and toiletries to street-sleepers. Mr Bayne says these service experiences can have a transformational effect on students. 'Students at our school are often very good at giving their money,' he said. 'That's fine, but that's charity. Service is giving your time.' Hong Kong International School's Interim programme works in much the same way as Horizons Week, with students travelling all over Asia and also to Europe on week-long trips involving service, adventure or cultural enrichment. This year the school offered 45 Interim courses, including mountaineering in Japan, scuba diving in Thailand, skiing in Switzerland and cultural tours of Italy and Spain. Service - in, among other places, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Hong Kong - is the focus of many of the courses. The cost of these far-flung exercises in experiential learning is not included in regular tuition fees, however, and does not come cheap. Students at HKIS also organise an annual fashion show that features student emcees and models and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local and international charities. In addition, the school has provided extra-curricular opportunities in sports that fall outside the mainstream in Hong Kong - sea kayaking, sailing and rock climbing, for example. And, within the physical education curriculum, students may opt for classes in leadership and group dynamics, kayak polo, fitness and yoga. 'We get lots of kids who have trouble getting out of the dash for success,' said Eric MacDonald, head of physical education at the HKIS secondary school. 'Yoga affords the opportunity for kids to collect themselves and reconnect with themselves. We get feedback that the kids appreciate the chance to focus on the inside.' German Swiss International School also steps outside the mainstream in its extra-curricular offerings. Besides programmes in choir, drama, orchestra and debating, students can choose podcasting, DVD and photo editing or aero-modelling. Communications officer Varsha Raj said 75 per cent of GSIS students - from primary to secondary school - took part in extra-curricular activities, including a Discovery Week that takes them abroad to Australia, Egypt, India and other countries. There are also summer language and work-experience opportunities in Germany. 'Our Discovery Week in October each year offers students the chance to learn about new countries, cultures and people,' she said. Primary students may be too young for international travel in school groups, but that does not mean they are left out of the extra-curricular picture. Whether they are doing laps in the pool at Canadian International School or enrolled in ballet classes at French International School, there is also plenty for them to do outside the classroom. At Yew Chung International School, primary students are taught how to build a computer from scratch. If that does not interest them, there is also lion dancing, cross-stitching, mural painting, ice skating and more. 'We run 12 to 15 activities per term,' said Adrian Hudd, the school's upper primary co-ordinator. There is no reason for school to end when the last bell sounds. Indeed, that could be when the best part begins for many students.