Loss of Learning: How Harmful are the Summer Holidays?

It’s suggested that 40% of our children’s learning is lost over summer holidays (Forbes, 2020).

The school holiday debate has been doing the rounds in the last couple of weeks. It seems there’s some very polarising opinions on it too.

Before we get started, here’s a resource for your KS1 learners, on Amelia Cobb’s The Cuddly Koala.

As a former teacher, there’s part of me that instantaneously reacts and feels furious at a mention of increasing term time. However, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t get a little lost and bored toward the end of the summer holidays.

Gavin Williamson made himself rather unpopular amongst the UK’s teachers with his proposal of a five-term year in 2021. Maintained schools, independents, and academies already have the freedom to set their own school term dates. So realistically, this could be a possibility for them. Although, the Coronorvirus Act 2020 does allow the education secretary to require schools to change their term dates too…(eeek!)

Would a shorter summer holiday really be that bad?

Every parent breathed a very big sigh of relief when schools reopened permanently again. On reopening, I experienced parents with quite opposing feelings about the kids going back to school. Some were itching, begging to get their child back. Others quite enjoyed keeping their ducklings at home.

The same approach can be seen throughout the summer holidays too. Some parents count down the days until the summer begins and others count down until it ends. This is in no way a reflection on their parenting or relationship with their children. In fact, my own parents enrolled us into just about every holiday club, babysitter, relative that would have us. That was because they both worked full time and couldn’t allow for a 6-week break in the middle of the year (like nearly 70% of the working population).

However, does this mean children should be in school MORE?

Parents aside, shortening the summer could be hugely beneficial for learners’ development and learning overall. This is especially relevant for our disadvantaged learners as this 6-week period is known amongst many educators as the ‘summer slide’.

In fact, a study conducted in areas of low socioeconomic status in Scotland and the North East of England found that after a summer break of seven weeks, learning loss occurred, or at least stagnation in learning (Front Public Health,  2017).

I’m not suggesting a complete overhaul is needed but there’s some very convincing arguments to consider. As with many educational amendments, the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children are those we need to be considering. It’s those children that would benefit most from an alteration.

Two children laying on a sofa reading books

Why can’t kids just be kids?

In this rapidly changing, technological world we’re bringing our kids up in, I’ve spoken to many parents who are desperate to keep their child’s innocence for as long as possible. It’s understandable. And for some families, those long, warm, sunny days filled with salty chips and melted ice cream are the stuff of memories. But there’s a large portion of the nation’s children who won’t be exposed to such enrichment. They will spend the majority of their holidays cooped up indoors. Possibly without any interaction or stimulation other than that of a TV screen or phone.

It’s no denying that technology is a huge part of the future for children. And there’s no doubt they need to be regularly engaging with it and using it to equip them for their future careers. However, we do need to be careful about losing them to an endless scrolling loop (I know I fall victim to this too, thanks Pinterest). Something like intentional screen time whereby the learner is assigned a task and time limit for their time with a device. For example, it could be 10 minutes reading an eBook (like one of the hundreds available on Reading Hub) or playing on a maths or phonics game. There’s a huge array to choose from and there’s a lot of value to be had beyond YouTube.

See more related resources on supporting your learners in Primary Education.

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