Summer learning loss – what parents need to know

by Anita Naik

Every summer, as we approach the end of term, the phrase 'summer learning loss' rears its head. This year it's been intensified after two academic years of hybrid learning and the news that a significant number of pupils learnt less in lockdown. If you're worried and want to help your child, here's what you need to know.

What is summer learning loss?

Summer learning loss, or the summer slide, is the loss of academic skills and knowledge throughout the summer break. Schools see evidence of this because students are often given tests before the summer break and again when they return to school in the fall.

On average, studies find students lost one month of learning over the summer months, losses were higher for math than reading, and higher grade levels experienced more loss.

Is it a more significant problem this year?

With a study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies finding the amount of daily schoolwork secondary pupils completed at home during last year's lockdown declined the longer they stayed out of the classroom, many schools and parents are worried about this adding to a further loss this summer.

Should parents be worried?

All schools have been working on a catch-up plan, and your child's results in the summer term exams and their yearly report should show you what areas need to be focused on. Talk to their subject teachers about where your child is now and what they need to work on. Alongside this, compare their yearly reports to see if there is a wide discrepancy.

Your child should also indicate where they feel they are struggling or lacking in understanding within a subject. This can then be rectified with the help of a tutor who can work on any knowledge gaps or topic issues.

How can I help my child?

Whether your child is struggling or not, one area most pupils tend to slide in is Maths. Solve this by going over all topics, and past papers, twice a week during the summer.

If your child is at primary school, the summer is a great time to get them to focus on timetables. For children making the transition to secondary school in September, revising Year 6 work is vital. Many secondary schools will be using CAT exams (see below) in the autumn term, especially as there were no SATs this year.

Working with a tutor can also be helpful here, especially for 11+. GCSE and A-level pupils.

What are CAT exams?

Cognitive Abilities Tests (CATs) are used in most secondary schools to test general intelligence and stream in Maths and English. These tests are designed to assess a pupil's ability in three different areas: verbal (thinking with words), quantitative (thinking with numbers), and non-verbal (thinking with shapes and space). The results can help teachers set the right learning pace for each child, monitor their progress and identify areas where they might need extra support in Year 7.

Unlike SATs, these tests are designed to be taken without any revision or preparation so they can accurately assess a child's potential in their ability to reason. While they are not testing a child\s knowledge after so much disruption in the last academic year, focusing on consistent learning over the Summer will help your child feel ready.

Should my children be reading too?

The summer slide has less impact on English as many pupils continue to read during the summer. If your child isn't a reader or bored of reading, try and entice them into new reads or older reads. Try the Book Trust for ideas.

Will my Year 10/13 child have to sit GCSEs and A-levels next year?

A-level and GCSE exams in 2022 and subsequent years could be adjusted to account for pupils' disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson says that while he wants to see students sitting their GCSE and A-Level exams next year, there will likely be "adjustments and mitigations" put in place to ensure fairness to pupils currently in Year 10 and 12.

Schools will keep you posted on this, and in the meantime, schools are working to help pupils be ready for the first set of exams to take place.

For more help with learning ideas this summer, see our posts on Helping your child with the 11+, How to improve your essay writing skills, Top 10 podcasts for students to listen to, How to build your GCSE Science Skills and The seven benefits of tutoring.