Covid: Schools emerging from 'chaotic' 18 months put on summer catch-up programme

ITV News North of England reporter Hannah Miller reports on the reaction to the government's catch-up summer school programme

Far from the silent corridors that usually signal the start of the summer break, at Churchill Community College in Wallsend the classrooms are alive with the sounds of learning and laughter.

Summer school is underway, with tens of pupils experimenting in the science labs and playing parachute games on the field.

The children we meet are delighted to be here – making new friends and doing practical activities is a novelty after a year of class bubbles and home learning.

The school was shut for 10 days in the run up to the end of term, as the Covid infection rate in the North East far outstripped anywhere else in the country.

"Listen to the voices of the people that know, listen to the teachers... and then work with them to put a plan in a place", headteacher at St Hild's Church of England school tells ITV News the government needs a long-time school plan post-Covid pandemic

Across England, secondary schools can choose whether – and how - to run their summer programme.

The vast majority are focussing on the transition between primary and secondary school, allowing children moving into Year 7 to spend time in their new classrooms before the autumn term begins.

  • 7 days: average length of summer school

  • 115 days: average number of days children have missed in the classroom through pandemic 

The Department for Education is pleased with the uptake – 74% of secondary schools across England are offering a summer school to their students.

Critics point out the number of children invited is only just over half a million (542,710).

Tracey Gibson, Headteacher at St Hild's Church of England school, who is currently putting on a summer school for the Year 6 pupils so they can transition into Year 7 has said the planning does not go far enough.

She told ITV News: "We need to think about the long-term plans for this, this is going to take years.

"This is a much bigger piece of work that needs to be done at all levels because these children are coming through from primary school and the children who are in the older years are going to college and to university.

"And that needs to be a big joined up piece of thinking and it's not.

"We had the bones of an excellent plan with Kevan Collins and it just went because the government were not willing to finance it.

"Therefore it is left again to teachers and schools to pick up the pieces with a little bit of 15 hours and summer school catch up. A school like ours would need 6,000 hours of personal tuition for the children, where am I going to find those hours?"

The headteacher said she cannot ask her staff or children to do extra long days as it is draining and exhausting.

She continued: "They need enrichment and wellbeing and we need to be able to facilitate that."

The summer programmes will help children mentally and socially, a teacher tells us

That means only 6.5% of state school pupils will get the chance to go to a summer school throughout their holiday break, the number who turn up may prove to be even lower. The government’s summer plan offers nothing at all to children of primary school age. 

For schools emerging from a "chaotic" 18 months, putting on the summer schools is a huge effort.

Exhausted staff are volunteering for the extra paid shifts, made possible by the £200 million funding put forward by the government.

At the school we visit, local charity Wallsend Action for Youth is bringing artists and a cheerleading group in to provide extra enrichment activities.

No one is under any illusion that the short-term help, for a limited number of pupils, will be enough to make up for the months of disruption the children have faced.

'Would it ever be the same for these children for the past two years? I don't know if it ever will', Chair of Governors Tracey Booth says

Academically, this programme won’t make much difference at all, one teacher admits, but he harbours a strong belief that it will improve mental health and prepare pupils socially for the year ahead.

Chair of Governors Tracey Booth tells us there will have to be extra funding if children are really going to catch up.

She said: "With the right funding I think they can catch up but there does need to be more funding. All we can do is put our best foot forward and put every effort in to getting the best for the children."

Ms Booth's ambition for her students is obvious, but many feel the government's catch up scheme doesn’t have ambitions to match.