THOUSANDS of pupils around the country are returning to school this summer holiday to attend literacy and numeracy catch-up lessons or to indulge their creativity through a range of play activities.
Schools and councils are tapping into the increasingly eclectic demands of youth with summer schemes, ranging from film-making, football, and fairy tales, to academic work in a less-pressured environment.
More than 60,000 11-year-olds are expected at literacy and numeracy classes, with 50 hours of Government-sponsored catch-up tuition offered to youngsters just below the level-four standard for secondary entry, despite concerns that last year's summer classes failed to have a significant effect.
Ministers have also invested pound;4.5 million in classes for gifted and talented pupils with 501 centres running lessons for 11 to 14-year-olds singled out by headteachers for their academic, sporting or creative prowess.
Sue Creed, who co-ordinates these classes for Reading borough council, said summer lessons are taught in a less formal, prescriptive environment. "These classes tackle areas outside their normal experiences - topics not covered by the national curriculum. There is greater flexibility than in conventional classrooms," she said.
Elsewhere, Northamptonshire County Council is hoping to extend pupils'
enthusiasm for history via a series of battle re-enactments, musket demonstrations and calligraphy workshops.
Islington council in north London ran a week-long computer-animation course, in an effort to generate interest in ICT.
"This will give young people hands-on experience of the latest web and animation tools within a creative environment," said Bill Clark, director of schools' services in Islington.
Warwickshire County Council is running a fitness scheme two afternoons a week, offering participants a bag of chips and a fizzy drink, which they burn off during strenuous coaching sessions.
Younger children, too, have been targeted: Norwich City Council is running a series of puppet performances for five to 12-year-olds, re-telling folk and fairy tales from around the world.
For 10-year-old Francesca Hoolihan, who spent a week of her holiday at a crafts workshop in Newham, east London, there is a clear distinction between term-time and holiday learning.
"Here you get to make stuff and take it home," she said. "If you don't do everything right, the teachers say it doesn't matter. And you don't have to call them 'Miss'."
Parents acknowledge the benefits of such schemes, but many have reservations about summer learning. Maria Carlton, from the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: "Some parents are concerned that children are losing valuable time to relax and enjoy non-academic pursuits - the things we used to do in the holidays.
"There has to be a balance - they need time to have fun, just playing and enjoying life."