The value of summer schools?

As the Deputy Prime Minister announces the launch of 2,000 summer schools for struggling pupils, we consider the impact summer schooling can have on raising attainment.

Experts differ on the value of summer schools. While some teachers and parents may feel that summer schools are a positive addition to mainstream education, giving children a break from traditional lessons and the opportunity to learn in a new setting, others feel that the benefits of squeezing in extra tuition over the summer months may be over-rated – or even harmful to a child’s educational achievement.

This week Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg confirmed that around 2,000 new summer schools would run across England this summer, making places available for up to 65,000 struggling pupils before they started new schools in September.

Key ‘brain training’ subjects would include literacy, numeracy, music and sport, he said, adding that the two-week placements would help poorer pupils start senior school on a more equal footing with their peers.

The debate around the effectiveness of summer schools is an interesting one, as it chimes with another announcement by the coalition government, who revealed last week that it is to target £10m towards helping disadvantaged children who are falling behind  in reading and writing before they move to secondary school. Interestingly the fund is welcoming submissions for both in-school projects as well as summer school projects (Read our story here.)

Education Endowment Fund

The Education Endowment Fund, which is administering this ‘catch up’ literacy fund, and also supports a variety of educational projects in the UK, raised questions about the true value of summer schooling, stating that the evidence in favour of them is “inconclusive”.

In its Literarature Review, which addresses the issue, it cites a 1998 study of two groups (Sainsbury et al), one of which received 50 hours of summer literacy schooling while the other had none. No significant difference in results was found between them, so simply providing extra tuition over the summer holidays did not necessarily improve literacy amongst poor readers, it argued.

While the EEF makes it clear that summer schooling is not necessarily ineffective, the organisation raises the point that it is difficult to measure its true impact. As with any extra-curricular mode of teaching, pinpointing exactly what makes a difference to children’s learning can be extremely difficult to gauge.

Nevertheless, many would argue that creating extra schooling opportunities for children can only have a positive effect, particularly where there are few other options available.  America is arguably ahead of the UK in terms of its summer school provision.  A US study last year, Making Summer Count, claimed that summer holiday programmes in America were particularly vital for bridging the gap between low- and high-income pupils.

We wait with anticipation for the results of the accompanying evaluation and analysis of results that will follow from the EEF’s implementation of these projects to get a better understanding of the effectiveness of summer schools. What’s clear however is that more research is needed.

Another of EEF’s reecent programmes seems to highlight what may be an important factor to bear in mind. Recently it confirmed it is targeting just over £0.5m pounds to a new Saturday school programme across 32 primary schools in Greater Manchester, which will reach 800 disadvantaged children in three years. The programme stated clearly that the classes will be “challenging” and “engaging”. This perhaps underlines the real issue – that it is content which determines success, rather than the mode of delivery.

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