A summer slide used to be something parents considered a handy accompaniment to a seesaw and a paddling pool. In these anxious times, however, the phrase has come to mean something far more disturbing – falling behind in the education rat race. Now, it would appear, 20 per cent of parents believe holiday coaching will help their children come top of the class.
Tutoring, of course, has in the past few years become big business. A shortage of supply and an ever higher benchmark for university places puts many parents in a constant state of fear about their children’s future. What better way to staunch the worry than by filling the idle summer hours with some constructive tuition?
In general, I am a firm advocate of tutoring. A little extra help can often be invaluable. If a child has stumbled against a mental block or has a teacher they find less than sympathetic, if they’re sitting an exam their school doesn’t prepare them for or has lost precious time through illness, coaching can both fill in gaps and boost confidence, providing the focused attention not always available in a busy classroom.
But parents should remember that the school year is long and arduous and a good rest will return their child to school better able to cope with the hectic autumn schedule. Children who have worked hard and fulfilled the necessary requirements during the year – whether that’s Key Stage 2 SATS or GCSEs – really do need a break.
That doesn’t necessarily mean a break from learning. The easier pace of August, with no early morning deadlines or homework load, should give parents time to provide their own invaluable input – helping research the history of a holiday destination, visiting the theatre, or simply reading to children or with them.
If, of course, a child has fallen seriously behind or is approaching a major exam hurdle in the coming months, there is an argument for regular practice with a sympathetic expert. And certainly an uncluttered timetable can provide a more soothing atmosphere to sort out tangles and ensure that vital skills remain firmly in place.
Other than that, summer learning should be fun and stimulating, not a further repetition of the classroom drill. It’s the ideal opportunity to send a child on a foreign exchange to see the point of studying a language or to a music summer school to perform with fellow enthusiasts; to sign up to the local drama workshop to explore the real life X Factor or to a football course to test their dribbling skills. This type of extra coaching is a real investment in their education – an upward swing rather than a summer slide.
Lisa Freedman runs the educational advisory service At The School Gates, www.attheschoolgates.co.uk