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School summer holiday catch-up programmes not the answer to addressing lost learning


New findings released today (14 Jul) from The Key reveal that fewer than 1 in 5 school leaders surveyed (18%) is planning to offer voluntary catch-up provision during the summer holidays – one of the initiatives being proposed by the government to make up for lost learning. 

  • A new survey of school leaders in England finds just 18% of schools are planning to run catch-up provision during the summer holidays
  • Concerns about wellbeing of children and teachers cited as main reasons for not doing so, alongside little appetite from parents 
  • Similarly, 75% of leaders are choosing not to extend the school day

More than half (55%) have no plans to run summer catch-up programmes, most commonly due to concerns over the wellbeing of teachers and children. When asked to choose their 3 main reasons for not running summer provision, 88% of these leaders said that their staff needed a proper break over the summer, and 70% said their pupils needed a proper break.  

Over a third of leaders (34%) said ‘we don’t think our families would support it’ – suggesting there is little appetite from parents for summer programmes, too. 

On top of the 55% who won’t be running such programmes, a further 23% of respondents were undecided about whether or not to do so at the time of the survey. Setting extra holiday homework is also widely considered to not be the solution, with just 5% of school leaders reporting they will be asking pupils to complete additional work at home over the summer.

“School leaders find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place,” comments Nicola West Jones, Head of Market Research at The Key. “While helping children to catch up on lost learning is high-priority for headteachers and their leadership teams, it’s clear that the wellbeing of their children and teachers has to come first. The summer holidays are a time for everyone to reset and refresh in order to hit the ground running in the new school year. Given the difficulties our school communities have faced over the past 18 months, they deserve this respite now more than ever.” 

A lack of budget was found to be another important factor behind leaders’ decision not to run summer programmes, with a quarter of these respondents (25%) citing this as a reason. In fact, over half of all respondents to the survey (53%) believe the COVID-19 catch-up fund is not sufficient to support successful pupil catch-up in their school. 

When leaders were asked to identify their 3 biggest barriers to successful pupil catch-up more generally in their school, ‘insufficient time in the school day’ was the most common response (43%). Despite the government’s suggestion to extend the school day as a possible way to address lost learning, three-quarters of leaders (75%) have no plans to make the school day longer, and only 19% have tried it since March.

This is likely to be closely connected to the other commonly-identified barriers to successful catch-up: ‘insufficient staff due to budget’ and ‘not having enough space in the school’ which were cited among the top 3 reasons by 38% and 34% respectively. 

Furthermore,  just over a third (34%) of all respondents identified ‘issues with pupil mental health and wellbeing’ as a top-3 barrier to successful catch-up – echoing the widely held concerns about running summer programmes.

“It’s clear there isn’t a simple solution to tackling the issue of lost learning”, continues Nicola West Jones. “School leaders are having to carefully balance this priority with their duty to safeguard the wellbeing of pupils and teachers, while also navigating the complex reality of restricted time, budget and space.” 

To make the best of challenging circumstances, leaders’ shared a preference for spending the COVID-19 catch-up funding on ‘small-group teaching sessions’ (chosen by 73%) and ‘1-to-1 teaching support’ (47%), run by the school’s own staff. Investing in ‘tech-based support’ (33%) was the next most commonly adopted strategy, with schools using the funding instead for things like equipment or subscriptions to online learning programmes.

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