Summer schools are additional lessons or classes organised during the summer holidays. They are often designed as catch-up programmes, although some do not have an academic focus and concentrate on sports or other non-academic activities. Others have a specific aim, such as supporting pupils at the transition from primary to secondary school or preparing high-attaining pupils for university.
Other approaches to increasing learning time are included in other sections of the Toolkit, such as homework and extending school time.
1. Summer schools have a positive impact on average (three months’ additional progress), but can be costly and time intensive to implement. Providing additional support during the school year may be a more cost effective approach to improving outcomes.
2. Summer school provision that aims to improve learning needs to have an academic component. Summer schools that include an intensive teaching component, such as using small group, have higher impacts, on average.
3. Maintaining regular attendance at summer schools can be challenging, in particular for disadvantaged pupils. It is crucial to consider how summer schools will attract and engage pupils to prevent attainment gaps widening.
4. Summer schools that use teachers that are known to the pupils have a higher impact, on average, but may be even more expensive to implement.
5. Summer schools can also provide additional experiences and activities, such as arts or sporting activities. This might be valuable in and of themselves or be used to increase engagement alongside academic support.
On average, evidence suggests that pupils who attend a summer school make approximately three additional months’ progress compared to similar pupils who do not attend a summer school.
Greater impact can be achieved when summer schools are intensive, well-resourced, and involve small group or one to one teaching by trained and experienced teachers. It does appear to be an advantage to have teachers who are known to the pupils (typically +4 months overall). In contrast, summer schools without a clear academic component are not usually associated with learning gains, though they may have other benefits.
There is limited data on the provision of summer schools on the African continent. After conducting a systematic search, no studies were found or reported on summer school or holiday classes in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and or Middle Africa.
Although there are fewer studies for secondary school pupils, the impact is similar for both primary and secondary age pupils.
Effects tend to be higher for literacy (three months’ additional progress) than mathematics (two months’ additional progress). There is very limited evidence for other subjects, such as science, where positive effects have been found.
The evidence indicates that more intensive teaching approaches, such as small group and one-to-one, are more effective (+5 months).
Summer schools impact academic outcomes through providing additional time over the summer that leads to additional learning. This additional learning time may also be targeted to pupils that have struggled in particular areas of the curriculum. Schools implementing the approach should therefore consider:
Ensuring that there is additional learning time in key subjects.
Ensuring that target pupils get access to the additional time by attending and successfully participating in the summer school.
Including appropriately targeted additional support within summer schools.
Liaising with feeder primary schools for summer schools targeting the transition.
Summer schools may also include other enrichment and engagement activities such as arts and sports activities or educational visits. These can be an important component for maintaining engagement in an academically targeted summer school or an important activity in and of themselves, if the summer school has broader goals.
Summer schools are typically delivered over two or three weeks. Some studies have examined longer summer school programmes of up to six weeks, though these are unusual and some have found particular issues with maintaining attendance. Schools may choose to provide programmes immediately after the end of the summer term, during the summer break, or immediately prior to the start of the new school year.
The costs of summer schools within SSA are likely to be very low given that fees paid for summer classes during the holiday period is not high. In addition, the frequency at school is much lower than at regular school times. Not all school facilities are used hence, remuneration for summer school-teachers and maintenance are much lower.Summer schools will require a large amount of staff time, compared with other approaches. Summer schools may be delivered by a mix of teachers, pastoral and support staff, external providers (such as literacy charities or sports groups) or volunteers.
Alongside time and cost, school leaders should consider how to maximise the academic component of summer school provision, ensuring it is well-resourced, appropriately staffed and closely targeted at pupil learning needs. School leaders should avoid approaches that increase teacher workload without securing pupil learning gains and should consider whether approaches detract from teachers’ capacity to plan high-quality teaching and learning in the next academic year.
The security of the evidence around summer schools is rated as low. 59 studies were identified that meet the inclusion criteria for the Toolkit.
Overall, the topic lost an additional padlock because a large percentage of the studies are not randomised controlled trials. While other study designs still give important information about effectiveness of approaches, there is a risk that results are influenced by unknown factors that are not part of the intervention.
There is no available research of the impact of summer schools on educational attainment in SSA. Robust research is urgently needed to address this evidence gap.
As with any evidence review, the Toolkit summarises the average impact of approaches when researched in academic studies. It is important to consider your context and apply your professional judgement when implementing an approach in your setting.