What is it?
Summer schools are lessons or classes during the summer holidays, and are often designed as catch-up programs. 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 students at the transition from primary to secondary school, or advanced classes to prepare 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. 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 aged students and mainly focus on reading and literacy. Some studies indicate that gains are greater for disadvantaged students, but this is not consistent.
What are the costs?
Overall, the costs are estimated as moderate. Summer school programs and supplementary courses targeted at specific subjects are readily available. Course costs can vary from $100 to $1,500 per student for short courses lasting up to two weeks.
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 delivering alternative approaches during the school year, which may provide similar benefits for a lower cost?
Maintaining high attendance at summer schools can be a challenge. If you are running a summer school, what steps might you take to engage students and their families?