Serif in Education

The slide of summer learning

School’s out for summer in the UK, and as always at this time of year, there has been much debate over the length of the summer holiday. Is six weeks too long, is it too short, or is it just right? Many people feel it is damaging to a child’s education and too long for certain children who forget elements of what they have learned during the previous year; while others believe teachers and pupils benefit from the long break and deserve a rest.

There has been talk of a revised structure in schools, to consist of five eight-week terms, with four weeks off in the summer and two-weeklong breaks between each of the other terms. A number of free schools and academies have adopted this system and one particular school in Essex reported that the number of pupils gaining at least five good GCSEs leapt from 70 per cent to 88 per cent as a result. Should this be applied across all schools though or should children be given the chance to enjoy a six week summer holiday like we all did; it didn’t harm us, did it?

Then there is the argument about the summer holidays effecting children differently depending on their class. A US study by Barbara Hens’ in 1978 found that while poor children and black children came close to keeping up with middle-class children in cognitive growth when school was in session, they lagged far behind during the summer.

Work by Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle and Linda Olson then built on this and they have produced interesting statistics showing that while reading scores improve fairly evenly for rich and poor children during the school months, richer children pull ahead during the summer holidays. “Seasonal studies of learning suggest that schooling compensates, to some degree, for a lack of educationally enriching experiences in disadvantaged children’s family life. These youths come closer to keeping up with better-off students during the school year than they do during the summer months”

This brings me on to my next point. If children are having a six week summer holiday, should they be intellectually engaged or should they be given that time off to play and take a break from academic ‘school stuff’?

I guess parents can do small and subtle things to keep children on their toes, without pushing them too hard. They could try to encourage their child to join the local library and find a little time each week to take them down to choose a new book. Simple things like old school board games, computer games or card games can be fun and help to maintain simple number skills. And believe it or not, shopping can be a great way to use tables, division, adding and subtracting – as well as a chance to practise weighing and capacity.

For those creative minds, film, music and art gallery visits could keep their minds ticking over, or why not work with them on the computer and encourage them to design their own magazine or a card for a friend or relative’s birthday?

The history behind the long summer holiday was so that children could go off and help with the harvest. Times have (obviously) changed, and therefore some would argue that the six-week break is no longer necessary from an agricultural point of view or desirable from an economic point of view. However, I can’t help but think ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it’, and that children deserve the six week break that we all got. There was nothing like that feeling of freedom, knowing that you had six whole weeks without stuffy classrooms and homework. As long as pupils are working hard during term-time, surely there is no harm…they are kids after all!