Education Quandary

'My son has been asked to attend a summer school at his new secondary. His primary school says he should go, but he doesn't want to, and we don't want our holiday plans to be wrecked. Will it matter if he misses it?'

HILARY'S ADVICE

All sorts of things go on in schools now over the holidays. This could be a summer school for gifted and talented students, or an intensive creative arts week, but it sounds as if it is most likely to be a summer school for children who have not done that well in their Key Stage 2 tests at the end of primary school, and who need a boost to their literacy and numeracy skills before they start secondary school.

If this is the case, the early evidence seems to suggest that, frankly, no, it won't matter a jot if your son misses it. Go on holiday. Researchers from King's College, London, followed up the earliest schemes and found that they had done little for pupils' achievements. Most showed no significant improvement at the end of their first year at secondary school, and those who did had either been right up near the borderline already or else were reading quite well in any case and simply needed a bit of help with their writing.

But there is also some anecdotal evidence that these summer schools do raise the self-confidence and motivation of children who are in danger of "switching off" from school, and anyone who visits these classes can see how much the pupils enjoy the novelty of being back at school during the holidays, but in a more informal and encouraging atmosphere.

And you do need to think very hard about why he is being urged to go to this summer school. Quite frankly, if he is already dropping behind, his educational future looks rather dim unless he can catch up fast. The first years of secondary school are a time when even children who are up to scratch often slow down or tune out. The ones who are already struggling often start to drown. One in three 11- to 14-year-olds fails to make the progress expected of them, and those who don't do well at these stages of their school career do even worse when it comes to GCSEs.

This is why the Government is throwing millions of pounds at the transition from primary to secondary school. Secondary schools receive more than £10,000 a head to train staff, develop resources and generally keep their youngest pupils on track.

But all these efforts will come to nothing unless the parents come on board as well, and demonstrate to their children that education matters. While a summer school might not be the answer to your son's problems, you must think hard about what else would help him.

READERS' ADVICE

Why are these summer schools needed? Presumably it's because schools aren't doing a good enough job in getting all their children up to the proper levels of basic literacy and numeracy? If so, then surely the answer lies in looking at what the schools themselves are doing, in term-time, not in making children give up precious weeks of their holidays to get more of the second-rate same?

Jane Penning, Newbury, Berkshire

Oh, for goodness sake - give the lad a holiday! I can see no need for a summer school, assuming his school follows the excellent practice of the schools here. In the last days of primary school, pupils visit their new school so that they are familiar with it. They know about the layout of a much larger building, the identities of their new teachers and the very different organisation which means pupils go to teachers' classrooms rather than vice versa.

I would be far more concerned about statistics that show many children falling below their previous attainment levels in basic skills in the first two years in secondary school. Better use should be made of time in normal school hours, rather than burdening such young children with extramural study.

I would say, politely, "No thanks" to the offer and append a few pointed queries as to how they propose to interest, enthuse and teach their pupils so as to make steady progress through the transition rather than spend two years losing ground and making it up again.

Ann Duncombe, Tullibody, Scotland

I know from experience that lots of children love summer schools - because they get so bored in the holidays. Their parents are working, they spend all their time watching videos, or hanging around doing nothing, and are thrilled to have something like this presented to them on a plate. It can be a great atmosphere to work in, with small groups and no real discipline problems, but you can't quite get rid of the niggling feeling that a lot of what you are doing is nothing more than baby-sitting.

Duncan Brand, Birmingham

NEXT WEEK'S QUANDARY

Our daughter, along with other students, is having to redo her AS-level English language coursework because an inexperienced and unsupervised teacher gave all of them wrong feedback and marking ­ students working under a different teacher did fine. We are worried about how this will look on her Ucas form, because she will have neither a result nor a prediction for her fourth subject. Shouldn't her sixth-form college make the situation plain to universities? If it won't, what else can be done to inform admissions tutors?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 21 July, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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