School's out for summer - but not for thousands of pupils

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The Independent Online

With the sun finally shining, and the chance to lark about in the park, there are plenty of reasons why the nation's seven million schoolchildren may be celebrating the end of term today.

With the sun finally shining, and the chance to lark about in the park, there are plenty of reasons why the nation's seven million schoolchildren may be celebrating the end of term today.

But the lyrics of Alice Cooper's teenage anthem of the Seventies, School's Out, will have to be amended to capture the flavour of some children's lives in the 21st century.

School will not be "blown to pieces", as suggested by the rebellious rocker, by the current generation of students.

Instead, many hundreds of thousands will be trekking back through the school gates during July and August to top up their learning – alarming parents who fear pupils are being pushed too hard.

Thousands of 11-year-olds going from primary to secondary school will be attending "catch-up" summer classes in literacy and numeracy to brush up their skills before they start.

The Government is offering a £10,500 package to primary schools who want to offer the classes, which last year included about 60,000 children. They were run by 2,100 schools.

For the most gifted and talented pupils, it will be more a question of "summertime and it's time to stretch yourself" rather than in the words from George Gershwin's Summertime, "the livin' is easy".

About 500 summer schools for the top 10 per cent of pupils aged 11 to 14 have been set up to stretch their academic ability beyond what can be achieved in a mixed ability class of more than 30 pupils

And older pupils are not exempt from the flurry of learning activities – particularly now the Government has invested much of its credibility into meeting its target of getting 50 per cent of young people into higher education by the end of the decade.

The millionaire philanthropist Peter Lampl pioneered the idea of week-long summer schools at leading universities so that young people from selected deprived areas could get an insight into higher education.

Mr Lampl's Sutton Trust began by organising summer schools at Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and Nottingham universities, and this year has extended the programme to St Andrews.

The programmes – for students at the end of the first year in the sixth form – have led to more youngsters from state schools in deprived areas opting for the top universities.

The Government has set up a similar programme in its education action zones – usually urban and rural deprived areas – where young people at the same stage of their education can attend any one of 92 universities linked with the scheme to find out more about life in higher education.

One might think parents would be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of having their children off their hands for part of the six-week summer break. But, that is not the case.

Margaret Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, believes the summer break should be seized upon as a time of respite from the pressures of the classroom.

She urged parents to remember, that studentsattending the university programmes will have just finished their AS-levels, which they will have taken just a year after sitting their GCSE's. They also have A-levels to come.

"I think all these summer schools are all very good and worthwhile but we've got to be very careful we don't push youngsters too far," she said.

"It's very important during the summer holidays that parents do as much as they can together with their kids.

"As for the children, they need time to release their frustrations and re-charge their batteries. They should be given time to do absolutely nothing – even if they complain they're getting bored."

Ms Morrissey urged employers to be flexible with requests for time off during the school holiday period – especially as many young people come from homes where both parents work.

"Obviously, employers can't give all parents all the time off," she said. "But it may be time to consider a little bit more flexitime – one parent could work from 7am until noon and the other in the afternoon. That would help. Even just taking the time to go for a walk with your kids can be exciting. You can point out different birds and animals, different geographical features. It could be just as interesting as a summer school and more relaxing."

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