THE BLOG

Are the School Holidays Too Long?

13/08/2013 13:07 BST | Updated 13/10/2013 10:12 BST

As children across the country kick back and enjoy a bit of time away from the classroom, the familiar media debate is underway over the impact a long summer break has on children's learning.

Summer learning loss is a well-known phenomenon in many schools. So much so that from 2015, the government is planning to introduce measures to give every state school the power to set their own term times - a freedom currently available to free schools and academies. The change could see a four week summer holiday introduced in many schools, with a longer gap between other terms.

Whether or not this will prevent the summer fall back remains to be seen. But there are a number of positive things that schools I speak to have done to ensure the summer months do not have a long-term effect on children's learning progress.

Identifying the summer slide

It is important for your child's school to have a clear understanding of where their pupils are in terms of their achievement before they can ascertain whether they might have forgotten some of what they have learned over the summer break. Many successful schools already use sophisticated tracking tools to help them do this.

Independent schools often have a longer summer break than schools in the state sector, particularly if they have pupils boarding from overseas. So being able to monitor their students' learning is critical to spotting any fall back.

Tracking children's progress can uncover some interesting results. One independent school in Cambridgeshire recently found that in their school at least, girls performed better than boys in exams. Knowing this enabled the school to introduce a targeted mentoring programme for selected boys, giving them extra support in the run-up to their exams. A similar scheme could be introduced to reduce the impact of summer learning loss.

Some schools, for example, have found that it's quite common for reading progress to drop off considerably while children are away from the classroom and daily reading practice is no longer routine. To counter this, I know of schools that have created a summer reading competition with prizes for those pupils who read the most books. By providing a diverse reading list covering fiction and non-fiction books across a wide range of subjects, children are more likely to find something that interests them. And the impact of this continued reading can then be monitored once the children return to school.

Fore-armed is fore-warned

No two children are alike and your child's teachers can use technology to better identify where summer drop off is happening. There are tools available that will help them see whether younger children are more likely to forget what they have learned than those higher up the school, if learning loss is more prevalent among girls or boys or whether certain subjects suffer more than others.

Knowing the answers to these questions will help schools and parents to ensure children get back up to their pre-summer achievement levels from the very first week of the new academic year.

Keeping parents informed

When children's performance is monitored throughout the academic year, schemes can be put in place to ensure they return to their July levels as quickly as possible.

Teachers can use the information they have to prepare summer activities - a holiday diary perhaps, or a reading challenge. There is plenty of scope for engaging parents in summer learning too.

Many schools publish online information daily for parents during the academic year, such as details of their child's attendance, behaviour and homework grades. This is a great way to keep parents up to date on their child's progress while they are still at school, provide materials that they can use to support their child's learning over the holiday period, or suggest ideas for fun learning activities at home. If parents know in advance what topics will be studied during the coming year, then summer activities such as museum visits, nature walks and theatre trips can all help to supplement their child's learning.

There has been a lot of media coverage recently suggesting that growing numbers of parents are paying for extra lessons for their child over the summer holidays. This is one option parents have in supporting a child's progress. But there are many other engaging activities that will keep young minds active and really help to get children off to a flying start in September.