Summer schools

Summer schools are lessons or classes during the summer holidays, and are often designed as catch-up programmes. Some summer schools do not have an academic focus and concentrate on sports or other non-academic activities. Others may have a specific focus, such as pupils at the transition from primary to secondary school, or advanced classes to prepare high-attaining pupils for university.

How effective is it?

On average, evidence suggests that pupils who attend a summer school make approximately two additional months’ progress, compared to similar pupils 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. 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.

A recent evaluation for the Department for Education in the UK concluded that one of the greatest barriers to impact was achieving high levels of attendance.

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 aged pupils and mainly focus on reading and literacy. Some studies indicate that gains are greater for disadvantaged pupils, 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. 

For full references and effect sizes, please click here.

What are the costs?

Overall, the costs are estimated as moderate. Costs include the employment of teachers for the duration of the summer school, hiring a venue and providing resources (books, photocopying etc.). Courses typically cost in the region of £250-£300 per week per student. A recent evaluation of a summer school programme in England estimated the costs as being slightly higher for a summer programme at £1,370 per pupil over four weeks (£340 per pupil, per week).

What should I consider?

Before you implement this strategy in your learning environment, consider the following:

  1. 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)?

  2. Summer schools are relatively expensive. Have you considered delivering alternative approaches during the school year, which may provide similar benefits for a lower cost?

  3. Maintaining high attendance at summer schools can be a challenge. If you are running a summer school, what steps might you take to engage pupils and their families?