Ideas for the summer...

Written by: Fiona Aubrey-Smith | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

As the end of the year approaches, Fiona Aubrey-Smith speaks to headteachers from across the country who share a range of practical ideas to support pupil (and teacher) learning this summer term and into the school holidays

Idea 1: Friendships as a foundation for learning

Children coming into early years will have often left their pre-school in the July with a secure group of friends and confidence in sharing their skills. But, come September, faced with an unfamiliar environment, new peers and a different language for learning, children can appear to have forgotten much of their knowledge.

Many headteachers recommend empowering families – both those coming into early years as well as new children transitioning into the school in other year groups – to meet up with other “new” families during the summer holiday. This enables friendships to develop prior to the start of term so that those first few days in the autumn are happier – in turn leading to a quicker transition and readiness to learn.

Ask your PTA to organise one time each week during the holidays where a few children and families will be at the local play park – it means that there will be an opportunity for the new families to engage every week leading up to September.

It is an approach embraced by the Galaxy Trust in Dartford, which has a family liaison officer who oversees broader family wellbeing and engagement across their schools. For one week in the summer holiday the family liaison officer runs an invite-only group for about 10 children who have particular social or emotional needs.

Executive headteacher Garry Ratcliffe explained: “She runs a series of fun activities including arts, crafts, music and sport, trips to the local park, and lots of reading. The sessions are 9am to 3pm which gives the parents of some of these tricky children a bit of a break in the middle of the very long holiday.

“Importantly, the summer sessions give the children the chance to keep in touch with the school and remember the rules and conventions associated with school attendance. This has been an incredibly positive project which we will be running in all three schools this year.”

Gina Donaldson, head of school at St Silas Primary in Liverpool, described an initiative with a similar goal: “Our most vulnerable children are given individual mentors to support them throughout the year, and additional time with their new teacher to enable them to feel more confident with the changes ahead and throughout these periods of change.”

Idea 2: Counteracting summer learning loss

Working in schools, we are all too familiar with the dips that can happen in children’s learning due to “summer learning loss”. However, some families will not be familiar with these issues, and others may well feel that the summer is an opportunity for a break from the formal learning that takes place through school. There are a range of approaches to take to engage with families so that their children don’t flounder during the break, and most parents are receptive to ideas which will entertain their children during the holidays:

  • Summarise what has been covered during the year in each area of the curriculum (you can easily repurpose the overviews sent out at the start of a term or topic). Then for each curriculum area suggest simple informal activities or games which can help children to consolidate learning and practise skills over the summer holiday. This is a great way to help parents fill the days and weeks during the holidays and boosts children’s confidence as well as providing important consolidation.
  • Explore how a flipped learning approach might create a stronger start to the autumn term – what can children explore over the summer in readiness for their first few weeks back? Could they collect objects, pictures, information or examples ready for their first topic of the new year? Could you give them a key question or starting point for each week of the holiday?

Martin Johnson, headteacher at Sacred Heart RC Primary School in Bolton, and an National Leader of Education who is known for innovation and high-impact school leadership strategies, shares five practical ways that summer learning loss is minimised at his school:

  1. “We enable teachers to jointly moderate with the teacher that children are moving to – ensuring agreement of standards, but also empowering the receiving teacher with an accurate baseline expectation. This works even better when the children know this is the case.”
  2. “We ensure that the ‘best’ piece of written work in each subject is passed up and stuck inside the front cover of their new books – setting the minimum standard expected in the receiving class.”
  3. “Our move-up days are well-planned, and support the children in preparing for the new class, reducing anxiety and, importantly, engaging the children in a small summer holiday project (which still gives plenty time to enjoy the break) – e.g. setting some summer reading, or a times table challenge. This should be decided by the receiving teacher tied to things they will use and move forward from.”
  4. “We work productively and purposefully up to the end of term, rather than ‘winding-down’ which gives a wrong message and shouldn’t be necessary where a curriculum is engaging and motivating throughout the year.”
  5. “We then get off to an immediate start on day one of the autumn term using the available information, and setting the expectation and standard accepted high.”

Meanwhile, Christine Terrey, headteacher at Harbour Primary and Nursery Schools in East Sussex, shares a few quick tips to ensure that the autumn term gets off to a flying start:

  1. “At the end of term send every child home with a set of library books – why keep them locked away over the holiday?”
  2. "Work with your local library to promote a Summer Reading Challenge – and give rewards for the number of books read at an assembly when you first come back.”
  3. “Ask children to keep a holiday diary/make a scrapbook – practical opportunities for writing that should be brought in to school in the autumn.”
  4. “Use your social media to promote competitions such as sunflower growing – where children can post their pictures and measure their efforts across broader curriculum areas.”
  5. “Use your online subscription sites to set activities such as maths work and make sure that you have home access for a good range of useful sites such as Discovery Espresso and My Maths.”

And Mr Ratcliffe shared two successful approaches used across his schools. He explained: “First, we run a free summer school to any child going into year 6 or year 2, in order to begin their learning earlier. We target specific children who have identified gaps, and we also identify those particularly motivated ‘deeper learning’ children who would thrive in a less formal environment.

“We specifically target Pupil Premium, hard-to-reach and low-income families in order for the pupils to get back into the swing of attending school. We run the sessions for five days between 9am and 12pm, with snacks, and we expect a commitment to attend every day.

“Second, we also offer the opportunity for all parents to take CGP workbooks home over the summer. We make no commitment to mark them, but parents are welcome to take them if they wish to continue learning with their children. This has proved very popular, and they are the cheapest on the market (and offer answers at the back too!).”

Idea 3: Brainspace for professional development

It is important that your staff as well as your children, have a break over the summer holidays, even though most of them of course will spend at least some of this time in school sorting out their classroom or undertaking various tasks.

However, the long period away from the everyday operational work of teaching is a great opportunity to develop your teachers as professional thinkers. Brilliant teachers often use “sunlounger time” or weeks away from the daily operations of the classroom to think more deeply and more innovatively about how they will improve their professional skills and attributes.

Great tips for enabling this are:

  • Give all teaching staff a reading list – a list of articles and resources they can access online, or a single book. Make this a powerful reading experience. Talk before the holiday about why you’re all going to focus on this subject – key questions for them to be thinking about while they read it and what you will be doing as a consequence when they return in September. This flipped learning-style approach to whole-school staff development has become increasingly popular and helps ensure that school improvement doesn’t grind to a halt between July and September.
  • In the last few weeks of term, ask teachers and leaders to work in pairs to identify an area of teaching and learning that they are going to research over the next year. Encourage colleagues to use some of the summer break to investigate their chosen area so that when they return in September they are ready to make an action research plan for the year ahead.
  • Fiona Aubrey-Smith is director of One Life Learning, sits on the board of a number of MATs, and is vice-chair of governors for a maintained primary school. Email her via

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