Every schoolboy and girl love the long summer holidays, and for that matter so do most teachers. After all, it is good to get away from that grind of education for a few weeks; at the very least it is a great opportunity to recharge your batteries so that you can start the Autumn Term refreshed and ready to go.
At least that is what used to be thought, but it seems that the long summer break is not so good for kids after all. There is now a considerable amount of evidence that school summer holidays have a detrimental effect on the education of our children. Many parents know this only too well, and are compensating for it by organising private tutoring for their children over the summer.
The impact of long holidays on pupil attainment
There have been a number of studies that have assessed how long holidays affect pupil attainment and there is an undeniable correlation between a dip in core subject skills, such as maths and foreign languages, and the length of time spent away from school. This is essentially a learning loss; pupils simply forget what they had already learned. What is remarkable is how severe this loss is; it equates to an average of between two and three months of teaching a year.
It is also clear that the dip is more severe in children from deprived backgrounds, as it is more difficult for those parents to provide the support that more advantaged families can provide, for instance structured holidays and, as discussed below, formal tutoring.
The benefits of holiday tutoring
Holidays are essential to us all and no less so to schoolchildren; however when the holidays are overly long their benefits are outweighed by the problems associated with learning loss. Today many parents are aware of these problems and are engaging private tutors for their children in order to overcome them.
In a recent survey of one thousand parents it emerged that around a quarter of families are prepared to pay for tutors during the summer holidays, and around 13 percent already use a tutor. They are also investing in online courses, revisions guides and even educational smartphone apps to keep their children’s brains in trim.
While the cost of tutoring is a barrier for some families, and with twice as many private school children than state school children having tutors, progressively more families are willing to make the sacrifice. The evidence is clear; rather than going backwards in their abilities, children who have a tutor tend to advance in their mathematics, science and language skills as well as in other subjects.
Why we have long summer holidays
Long summer holidays are antiquated. The reason for introducing them originally was that children were a very important asset when it came to gathering in the harvest. Even if the schools didn’t close, parents would refuse to send their children to them. Today of course such an agricultural society no longer exists; child labour has been replaced with machines, and today there are laws against child exploitation.
The reason why we still have long summer holidays is because they are guarded jealously by teachers. There are many teachers who joined the profession mainly because of the them, and it will be difficult to convince them that they are a bad thing. A number have already threatened to leave the teaching profession if long summer holidays are abandoned.
The alternatives to long holidays
From 2015 all schools will be able to set their own term and holiday dates. A number of schools such as academies and free schools are already able to do so, but the new education bill will extend this to all state funded schools. The education secretary Michael Gove is also addressing the challenge of rewriting teachers’ terms and conditions of employment; it won’t be an easy task.
Currently the favoured models would appear to be a school year consisting of either four or five terms; however it is also clear that there will need to be close coordination between different schools, otherwise there will problems for families with children at different schools.
In the interim, employ a tutor
Today there are an estimated 10,000 tutors in the UK and the majority of them work on a freelance basis through tutoring agencies. Naturally children need time to play, and to enjoy family holidays, but not at the expense of falling months behind in their schoolwork.
Engage a tutor and avoid the learning dip; after all your children’s education is worth it.