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  • Writer's pictureAllen Olayomi

The impact of the summer break on disadvantaged pupils

Many parents and educators worry about the potential effects of the long summer school holidays on pupils. As the research referenced in this blog will reveal, many pupils may have to contend with starting the new academic year with lower educational attainment levels when they return to school this autumn.

This will be generally lower than their learning levels at the start of the summer break, particularly for EAL pupils and other under-represented groups. Education researchers have been interested in this phenomenon, often called summer slide, summer learning loss, or summer setback, for many years.

Does the summer break affect academic performance?

School holidays have an impact on pupils' retention levels and academic performance because they tend to make little effort to actively engage with their academic work while away from school. The overall impact of a 6 week break for summer may differ significantly for each pupil because a child's specific needs often involve academic, social, or behavioural issues. Disadvantaged students such as EAL pupils, particularly those in lower-income groups, are vulnerable to this situation.

A REAL (Review of Education Administration and Law) study from 2021 suggests that summer vacations have an effect on students' retention of reading comprehension material. Additionally, it reveals that students performed better on a pre-summer test administered before the summer vacations than they did on the post-summer test afterward. Further testing also demonstrates a sizeable gap between the performances of students attending private and public schools as well as rural and urban students.

What causes the summer slump and what is the appropriate solution?

The unequal availability of opportunities to practice various academic pursuits during the summer (i.e. EAL pupils who need to regularly practice their reading, speaking, and writing skills) and the subject matter's sensitivity to memory degradation, are suggested as possible reasons for this slump. Disparities in income may also be connected to variations in learning and practice opportunities.

To tackle summer learning loss and close these gaps, educators and policymakers rely on traditional summer school programmes. Cooper and colleagues published a thorough analysis of school-based summer programmes in the USA, and they found that, on average, they had favourable benefits.

They did, however, also come to the conclusion that pupils from higher-income homes benefited more from summer programmes than lower-income pupils did. They suggested that this would be due to either higher-quality summer school programmes or the relationship between high-level programmes and the resources pupils had access to at home. As a result, there is now concern that initiatives to stop summer learning loss may, if poorly targeted, worsen the summer gap.

Naturally, the efficacy of school-based summer programmes varies. Common recommendations for developing top-notch programmes include professionalising summer school workers, fusing academic instruction with practical or enjoyable activities, and developing alliances with neighbourhood organisations to pool resources.

Although school-based summer learning initiatives have promise, they frequently fall short of their lofty goals. These school-based summer programmes can be problematic for two key reasons: first, they often struggle to recruit qualified teachers. Secondly, they tend to be unrealistic for pupils from families for whom attending summer school can have significant costs. Furthermore, these kind of school-based initiatives are not as available in the UK.

In conclusion, schools, parents, and policymakers need to address the summer slump because it can significantly worsen educational attainment gaps and students lose much of the progress gained during the school year.

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