Pupils tune in to summer

11th August 2006 at 01:00
Far from being lethargic or anti-social, children are making the most of the long holidays through a diverse range of stimulating and fun activities such as DJ-ing, video-editing, DNA testing, football training, creative writing and drama workshops

Is the long summer holiday a chance for pupils to relax and refresh themselves or does it simply store up trouble for the new academic term?

Many teachers complain children have become lethargic and unteachable by September. Academics meanwhile have warned that the lengthy break can lead to academic regression.

The potential lack of stimulation during the summer holiday has been blamed in some studies for pupils losing the equivalent of one month of schooling.

Local authorities even considered the impact of the summer holiday in deciding whether to restructure the school year into six terms.

But it seems they need not have worried. Far from hanging around on street corners and sleeping until lunchtime, the nation's youngsters are keeping busy during the summer months.

Thousands have been taking part in academic, cultural and sports activities organised by schools, local authorities and voluntary groups.

The events will come as a relief to academics such as Trevor Kerry, emeritus professor of education at the University of Lincoln, who has warned about summer "learning loss". He said the phenomenon particularly affected younger children, and those from lower-income families, whose parents cannot afford to take them on holidays. "During the last few weeks of the summer term academic work is often wound down in schools so many children begin to tune out, which continues over the break," Professor Kerry said.

"Parents need to engage children's minds all the time, particularly during their time off school. They should take them to places of interest, rather than just let them play on an X-Box or listen to music on their headphones."

Richard Thornhill, head of Loughborough primary in Brixton, south London, agreed. "There's always a period in September where we have to go over the school rules and reinforce our expectations of their behaviour," he said.

"To get us back to where we were before takes about two weeks, but for some children it is considerably longer."

But many children will not get the chance to sit still for long. In Staffordshire, for example, young people having been spending their summer in DJ-ing classes, video-editing workshops and It's a Knockout-style events.

"Not only do young people have a great summer, but we also know that the programme reduces anti-social behaviour," said Robert Simpson, cabinet member for children and lifelong learning.

More than 100 children are expected to take part in sports and arts activities at Hengrove community arts college in Bristol.

Writhlington business and enterprise school in Bath, meanwhile, is running a summer school designed to ease the transition between primary and secondary school, for pupils joining in September, as well as a play scheme for five to 12-year-olds.

"The holiday play scheme and the Year 6 transition summer school have both proved to be invaluable," said Marie Getheridge, headteacher. "Students arrive in September familiar with the building, teachers and the opportunities offered through our extended school programme and as such have a positive attitude."

Teachers, however, expressed mixed views on the concept of summer regression.

"Summer learning loss is similar to the problem people have when they return to work after a holiday, they take time to get back into the swing of things," a spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers said. "We are not suggesting children be given homework to do, but that they not be allowed to idle away the summer."

However, Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, dismissed the warnings about learning loss as "nonsense". "It is often just used by people who want to argue that schools should be open longer. They don't appreciate the pressures that children and teachers are under at school. I actually think it enhances a child's learning to have a break," she said.

* newsdesk@tes.co.uk

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