Evidence for Learning: Summer schools

Summer schools

A summary of the research evidence on summer schools in the Australasian context.

The Teaching & Learning Toolkit focuses on impact; it presents an estimate of the average impact of summer schools on learning progress, based on the synthesis of a large number of quantitative studies from around the world.

This page offers a summary and analysis of individual Australasian studies on summer schools. In contrast to the Toolkit it includes studies which do not estimate impact, but instead investigate the implementation of interventions and how they are perceived by school leaders, teachers and students. This information is valuable for school leaders and teachers interested in finding out more about particular examples of summer schools in Australia and New Zealand.

This Australasian Research Summary was generated by Melbourne Graduate School of Education in 2016. 

Summer schools are not are not as common in Australia and New Zealand compared to the US and the UK (from which the majority of the current Toolkit literature is drawn). Based on a general web search, the majority of summer programs aimed at school-aged children are summer camps and holiday programs where academic achievement is not the focus. Studies on the topic suggest there is no marked difference in achievement between children who attend summer school and those who do not (Hattie, 2009). For low SES students, however, small differences in achievement gains resulting from summer school participation may have a great impact over time, even though middle-class students tend to gain more from such participation (Hattie, 2008).

While Australian studies have shown that the gap in achievement between students from low- and high-SES families widens as they progress through school, the impact of the summer slide’ has not been researched in Australia, possibly because the summer break is much shorter than in the US (Vale, Weaven, Davies, Hooley, Davidson & Loton, 2013).

The Australian-based case study by Aldous, Barnes and Clarke (2008) examined a summer program for Australian Aboriginal students excelling in science in Australia (Aboriginal Summer School for Excellence in Technology and Science [ASSETS]). A number of factors were identified as assisting Aboriginal student engagement in science: the constant presence of Aboriginal mentors throughout the academic component of the program; the delivery by an Aboriginal academic of a science unit; program sessions related to Aboriginal culture and anthropology; the use of culturally-appropriate accommodation; running a parallel leadership program involving Indigenous role models during evening activities; relating a science unit to an environmental project.

Hattie’s (2009) synthesis of meta-analyses on summer schools found that summer schools do not impact significantly on student achievement. However, for low SES students, the impact, though minimal, may be significant for longer-term achievement. In one meta-analysis of 93 summer programs by Cooper, Charlton, Valentine, Muhlenbruck and Borman, participating students scored (d=0.23) higher than students who did not participate, and this was more significant for students from middle-class backgrounds. Higher effects across all year levels were found for the following: programs more specifically tailored to student needs; programs where parents were involved; mathematics programs (more so than reading programs). In another meta-analysis (Kim, 2002), students from high SES backgrounds gained more from summer programs (d=0.22) than low SES students (d=0.12).

The New Zealand-based study by McNaughton, Jesson, Kolose and Kercher (2012) examined a summer program in 2010 for students in Years 4 to 6 (n=648, from five different schools). While no significant findings were found for the intervention, the authors commented on the lack of consistent implementation across schools. Another case study based in New Zealand by Morgan (2012) examined a library summer program that sought to engage children in literacy-related instruction. Games and set tasks were organised for children to complete alone, with family, or in (library facilitated) groups. Based on parent and child responses, the program appeared to be a success.

Aldous, C., Barnes, A., & Clark, J. (2008). Engaging Excellent Aboriginal Students in Science: An Innovation in Culturally-Inclusive Schooling. Teaching Science, 54(4), 35 – 39.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London; New York: Routledge.

McNaughton, S., Jesson, R., Kolose, T., & Kercher, S. (2012). School achievement: Why summer matters. Wellington, New Zealand: Teaching Learning Research Initiative.

Morgan, G. (2012). Dare To Explore: Keeping Auckland’s Children Reading And Learning Over Summer. APLIS, 25(4), 192 – 200.

Vale, C., Weaven, M., Davies, A., Hooley, N., Davidson, K., & Loton, D. (2013). Growth in Literacy and Numeracy Achievement: Evidence and Explanations of a Summer Slowdown in Low Socio-Economic Schools. Australian Educational Researcher, 40(1), 1 – 25.

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Summer school; holiday programme; achievement; Australia; New Zealand; meta-analysis; summer learning programme.