Schools in England to eschew summer ‘catch-up’ and put health first

Posted: 15th July 2021

Fewer than one in five schools in England are planning to run “catch-up” provision during the summer holiday because headteachers are worried about pupil and staff wellbeing, according to a survey of school leaders seen exclusively by the Guardian.

Just 18% of those who took part in the poll said they would be offering voluntary catch-up provision during the six-week break, while a mere 5% said they would ask pupils to do extra homework over the summer.

The government is concerned about the amount of learning children have lost during the course of the pandemic and has encouraged schools to offer additional support during the summer, but there is concern among some school leaders about pupils’ mental health.

The prime minister said last week he was in favour of extending the school day for additional tuition and activities, but 75% of leaders who took part in the survey said they had no plans to do so.

Of those who were not planning extra summer provision, 88% said they felt their staff needed a proper break over the summer and 70% said their pupils needed a break. About a third (34%) said they did not think families would be supportive.

The survey was conducted among 1,150 primary and secondary school leaders by the Key, an education resource that supports more than 12,500 schools across UK. Nicola West Jones, the head of market research at the Key, said: “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.”

Catch-up during the summer has been a key theme for ministers. Secondary schools were invited to apply for extra funding for summer schools aimed at pupils moving up from primary, while all schools are eligible to receive a catch-up premium which can be used for running summer programmes.

A separate report by the National Foundation for Educational Research says school catch-up plans should give equal emphasis to both emotional and academic support.

School leaders told the NFER that the current approach to learning recovery was “misconceived and inadequate”, with reports of deteriorating wellbeing and mental health among pupils.

Researchers interviewed senior leaders in 50 schools in deprived areas in England, many of whom reported an increase in the number of incidents of poor behaviour during the pandemic.

They said anxiety was the most common issue for pupils, including separation anxiety, an increase in school refusal, hyper-vigilance, germaphobia and performance anxiety or fear of failure.

A substantial minority reported “an increase in instances of actual or threatened self-harm, including suicide”, which was more common among older pupils but not confined to secondary schools. One primary leader said the number of their school’s children referred to the NHS’s child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) increased from one before the pandemic to 11 afterwards.

The Department for Education recently announced an additional £1.4bn in school catch-up funding, on top of £1.7bn already committed. The DfE has been contacted for comment.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Almost three out of four mainstream secondary schools [have signed up] to deliver a summer school programme so far, helping young people recover from the disruption to their education.

“In primary schools, school leaders can target catch-up funding to best support their pupils, including through small group tutoring or access to technology, with no expectation of summer provision unless schools decide that is the best way to support young people.”

Source: the Guardian

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