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Summer schools are academic flop

SCHOOLS are to be free to spend millions of pounds previously ring-fenced for summer schools because the scheme has failed to boost standards, writes Julie Henry.

Summer schools were one of the secret weapons in Tony Blair's education agenda when Labour won the 1997 election. They were aimed at helping children who fell behind with their reading and numeracy. Last year pound;22 million was allocated for 2,200 holiday schemes.

However, the ability of summer schools to improve academic achievement has been thrown into doubt. Now schools will have the freedom to choose how to spend the pound;10,500 aimed at easing children's transfer to secondary school.

A recent evaluation of summer schools by the Office for Standards in Education criticised the schemes. Inspectors found that teachers pitched the classroom work too low, so while it might boost self-esteem it was unlikely to raise standards. Some summer schools had serious difficulties in recruiting 30 pupils - one of the 20 schemes evaluated had only six children. Research two years ago showed that the literacy skills of almost half the participants in holiday schemes deteriorated.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris said: "We are giving schools the freedom to use their funding flexibly - perhaps by employing extra teaching assistants or providing Easter schools."

Speaking to the National Association for the Teaching of English conference last week, Ms Morris said schools had to overcome the dip in pupil performance that was a common feature of the first few years at secondary school.

However, she acknowledged that many secondary teachers had no faith in the key stage 2 results which were used as a baseline to measure the extent of progress at KS3.

Lana Boztas, a teacher at a Surrey primary, said eight and nine-year-olds who had been given last year's KS2 reading test had achieved at or above the level expected of the average 11-year-old. "These are not genius children. They are reaching these levels because the reading comprehension is too easy," she said.

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