What is it?
Summer schools are lessons or classes during the summer holidays. They are often designed as catch-up programs, 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 students at the transition from primary to secondary school or preparing high-attaining students for university.
How effective is it?
On average, evidence suggests that students who attend a summer school make approximately two additional months’ progress compared to similar students who to do not.
Greater impacts (as much as four additional months’ progress) can be achieved when summer schools are intensive, well-resourced, and involve small group tuition by trained and experienced teachers. In contrast, summer schools without a clear academic component are not usually associated with learning gains. Other variables, such as whether the teacher is one of the student’s usual teachers, seem to make less difference on average.
Summer schools are not as common in Australia and New Zealand as in the USA and the UK. The majority of summer programs aimed at school-aged children are summer camps and holiday programs where academic achievement is not the focus. Hence, there has been a limited amount of local research on the topic.
How secure is the evidence?
Overall, the level of evidence related to summer schools is extensive. There are a number of meta-analyses, which consistently find small average effects. Studies include both primary and secondary school students and mainly focus on reading and literacy. Some studies indicate that gains are greater for disadvantaged students, but this is not consistent.
Most studies have taken place in the USA. However, a meta-analysis combining findings from three recent evaluations of summer schools in England indicates that average gains in literacy of an additional two months’ progress are also achievable in the UK.
A recent evaluation for the Department for Education in the UK concluded that one of the greatest barriers to summer schools having impact was achieving high levels of attendance.
What are the costs?
Overall, costs are estimated as moderate. They include the employment of teachers for the duration of the summer school, hiring a venue and providing resources (for example, books and photocopying). Courses typically cost in the region of $250 –$300 per week per student. Recent evaluations of summer school programs in England estimated the costs as being slightly higher for a summer program at between $1,370 and $1,750 per student over four weeks ($340 to $440 per student, per week). However, overall costs are estimated as moderate, (less than $720 per student per year), because these particular programs were unusually long.
What should I consider?
Summer school provision that aims to improve learning needs to have an academic component. Does your summer school include an intensive teaching component (small group or one to one)?
Summer schools are relatively expensive. Have you considered providing additional learning time during the school year, which may achieve similar benefits for a lower cost?
Maintaining high attendance at summer schools can be a challenge. What steps will you take to engage students and their families?