US-style summer camps for poorer children

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The Independent Online

American-style summer camps for disadvantaged young people could be opened next year to prevent pupils from forgetting in the school holidays what they have learned during term.

The plan is one of a number being considered by the Sutton Trust to cut down on the cost of the UK's low level of social mobility. A study published today by the education charity says the failure to improve on the UK's dismal record in this area costs the country £14bn a year.

The study looks at how much more money disadvantaged young people would earn if their income were brought up to the national average. One of the most effective methods to raise their performance and qualifications would be to introduce the summer camps which combine learning with fun, the report says.

"There is real concern in the UK that poorer children fall behind their peers during the long summer holidays," says the analysis, carried out for the Sutton Trust by economists at the Boston Consulting Group. One of the reasons for this is that the pupils have less encouragement to read books in their leisure time than children from well-off homes. The trust, which was set up by the millionaire philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl, is already examining ways in which a pilot for the summer camp programme could be up and running next year.

"Summer camps have been a long-standing American tradition," says the study. "There are a growing number of programmes that combine an academic focus with the sporting and cultural activities. An important benefit of the US camps is that they have shown substantial improvements in participants' reading scores, helping to overcome the 'learning loss' that many young people experience during the summer and which disproportionately impacts on those from lower socio-economic groups."

Other ideas floated in the study include urging the Government to fund "open access" independent schools. It wants the next Government to consider extending a scheme launched by the trust, which saw every student at an independent girls' school in Liverpool being admitted on merit, regardless of ability to pay. As a result, the trust paid the fees for a third of the students and partial fees for another third. "Under the scheme, the school achieved its best GCSE results and 95 per cent of pupils, many eligible for free school meals, went to university," says the report.

The report suggests ministers could fund up to 12 similar schools at a cost of up to £25m, with a view to extending the scheme to 100 schools if it proved to be successful.