School’s out for Summer … or not …

School may be out for summer, but a survey suggests many parents are unwilling to let their children have a holiday from studying at all.

More than a quarter plan to hire tutors to help prevent the so-called “summer slide” in academic ability, the poll of 1,000 primary school parents suggests. A fifth hire tutors so their child can be “the best in the class”, the survey for a maths tutoring website adds.

Research has long shown pupils’ grades slip back over the summer break. This is especially the case if they do not engage in educational activities.

Statistics have shown lately that children typically perform weaker in tests set at the end of the summer holiday than if they took the same tests at the beginning. Some argue that this is due to the unequal access to summer learning opportunities.

But the independent survey carried out for http://www.themathsfactor.com, which offers online tutoring courses, suggests more than a third of parents are unaware that their child’s learning may slip back during the holidays. However, most of the parents were planning to undertake some low-cost learning activity with their children over the six-week break. These included reading books (29%), tapping into the latest literacy and numeracy mobile apps (14%), SATs revision (8%) and online courses to keep children’s minds active (7%), according to the online poll. The finding that 27% were planning to hire tutors for their primary-age children, surprised the firm that commissioned the poll, but is in line with earlier estimates of pre-GCSE tutoring.

Many schools do not set much, if any, homework over the summer. However, it is a time when many, especially working parents, have more time to help their children with it. This doesn’t mean though that setting homework should happen surely? Why aren’t kids allowed a holiday? Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said kids should be allowed to be kids during the holidays and children need a break from learning pressure and time to play – which is itself educational. That last part was the key to me. The government were slammed on the lack of inclusion of Play in the EYFS curriculum so, assuming that the new curriculum does indeed come in, the holidays are the only other time that Play as part of education will be available.

Tuition companies at the moment are pointing to summer holidays as their peak times for signing customers up. Heather Garrick, marketing director for Explore Learning states, “July is by far our busiest sign up month. Last year for example, we had 2,600 new members sign up in July compared with 988 in June 2012. As a result we have longer opening hours throughout the summer to deal with this increased demand.”

William Stadler, founder and director of Holland Park Tuition reports an increase in parents with younger children seeking tuition at this time of year. He adds, “It’s a very good opportunity to do some catch-up work because the parents have more time and the children are not at school. If there are a couple of issues that just need to be ironed out, you can go through it in a stress-free way rather than spending five hours struggling. The idea of tuition is to take the stress out of a child’s life – then they can go off and play football or whatever else they would much prefer to be doing.” I’m really sorry Mr Stadler, but what are you talking about? Most children who would need things ‘ironing out’ as you put it that I’ve taught have found learning particularly stressful, so how is more learning stress-free?

The big question I would like answered on this topic is: Who makes the decision of summer tutoring: the child or the parents? The sense that I get here is it is more likely to be the parents. Recently on Channel 4 on UK television there was a program called Child Genius, where children of the top 0.1% of the country competed in a competition called Child Genius of the Year. On it was a child called Connor. His mum decided to make his 9 year old son do GCSE Mathematics early in order to impress a school. This meant that Connor was put through studying of 12 hours a day, including school hours and homework from the school. I saw this and thought to myself, does he really want that? Throughout the programme they had shown him with rather distressed looks and his general wellbeing didn’t seem to be that strong. Now I’m not saying all parents are too pushy, and I understand that all parents want the best for their children, but there does need to be a time of year where the children do not feel stressed out by a barrage of learning, especially if the weather has been as hot as the last couple of weeks have been.

If all this tutoring is necessary, why do we not have a 12 month school timetable for our curriculum as opposed to the current 10 months or so? This means that the children are in education and getting the same level of tutoring or maybe even better than what they would get from a private tutor, who incidentally the parents would have to pay for, which is something else Mary Bousted of ATL disagrees with.

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