Probe ordered as summer schools get mixed report

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The Independent Online
Children attending the Government's literacy summer schools made great strides in reading during the course but, like other 11-year-olds, slipped back even further than their original level by the start of this term, research has revealed. Now ministers want to find out what goes wrong in the holidays, says Lucy Ward, Education Correspondent.

The school standards minister, Stephen Byers, yesterday ordered an urgent investigation into why children lose ground as they transfer from primary to secondary school.

The move came after an evaluation report on the Government's flagship literacy summer schools, disclosed in yesterday's Independent, revealed that children who had attended the schemes showed "a significant decline" in reading test scores over the four months between their final summer term at primary school and their first term at secondary.

A control group of children which had not attended the 50 summer schools showed an almost identical decline over the same period.

The fall-back among the pupils taking part in the project came despite evidence, demonstrated in a second study carried out by the educational charity which ran the scheme, that at least half of the 1,500 children who attended made reading progress of six months or more during the two- or three-week courses, according to tests at the beginning and end.

The Government yesterday used those findings to claim spectacular success for the literacy schools initiative, while acknowledging that the other evaluation, conducted by the independent National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), had uncovered "worrying evidence of the way that children's achievement can be hampered in the transfer from primary to secondary school".

The literacy courses, funded by a mix of government cash and private sponsorship, were targeted at 11-year-olds who failed to reach the expected level of English at the end of their primary schooling.

As plans were announced yesterday to extend the scheme to 500 schools next year, government sources acknowledged changes were needed to ensure pupils maintained the progress made during the courses.

The source said: "This shows there has to be a proper follow-through to the benefits children are clearly gaining in the summer school so they are not dissipated when the kids go away on holiday or play with their friends."

Next year's courses are not expected to be longer, but organisers are likely to examine the possibility of providing a programme for children leaving summer school to follow for the rest of the holiday.

The NFER acknowledged that its study compared high-stakes national tests taken by pupils in their familiar primary schools before the holidays with tests taken in the second week of term at a new school, but say its findings nevertheless echo previous research.

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