Running a summer school
David Linsell is head of Ratton Performing Arts Trust School in East Sussex. In this blog he’ll be talking about his experiences of running a summer school and how it benefits pupils, parents and staff, as well as sharing his tips for setting one up
Summer schools and parents
I’ve written previously about how summer schools boost the self esteem, aspirations and work ethic of my more vulnerable children, many of whom are on Free School Meals.
But another interesting positive benefit it can have is on our relationships with less engaged parents, those often considered ‘hard to reach’.
We start by inviting them into to summer school ‘taster’ days and have found them overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the programme. It reassures them, takes away some of their nervousness for their child and in the most practical sense reassures them that their child is being supervised and (in some cases) kept out of trouble for the week!
We also make sure they are invited to the award ceremony at the end of the summer school. We find that the awards we give out don’t just boost the confidence of the pupils, but of their parents too. Often these parents are more used to being called to the school to receive bad news about their child’s performance or behaviour, so it’s a real bonus to see them do well and succeed. And we get to build a better relationship with them in the process.
I’ve written here before about all the positive benefits for pupils summer schools can bring. Here’s how I go about setting the summer school up.
When the Easter break is over and we know the pupils who will be coming to us, our liaison staff will go out and visit the primary schools who are sending pupils our way.
We have an intake of 243 pupils and about 10% are on Free School Meals so we focus on them. We can tailor our summer schools according to any particular needs we identify. For example, one year our discussions with primaries allowed us to identify behaviour as issue common to many of them, so we made sure the children knew what was expected of them in the ‘big school’, and how to build better relationships with fellow pupils.
We get in touch with parents as soon as we can for us and hold a few taster days for the pupils and their parents so they know how it works. We find that the parents are really enthusiastic, even those who might be described as ‘less engaged’.
We run the school with existing staff, and discuss with them how the school will run in the summer term. Happily this means I don’t need to do any extra CRB checks and the risk assessments are simple to complete. We even open our canteen for them so they get used to quality school lunches.
I tend to leave the staff running the school to get on with things, but drop into the awards ceremony on the last day. I enjoy that; it’s a laugh! We give out awards for those who’ve done well academically or won sporting events, but also for social reasons such as leading a team well. It’s more than a certificate - it’s recognition of their achievements. It gives the pupils a real boost.
And just for the record. That year we focused on behaviour? It worked. The behaviour log for the Summer school students throughout Year 7 was good, they did not live up to their reputation.
I’ll be running a summer school for children transitioning into Y7 this year because I’ve done it for seven years now and found that it has numerous positive benefits for the pupils.
On average 10 per cent of our pupils are on Free School Meals and can be vulnerable due to low self esteem, low aspirations and a poor work ethic. In my experience our summer school helps with all of these, sometimes in quite simple ways.
Knowing their way around the school before term starts allows them to lead others when they arrive, boosting confidence and self esteem. It also allows them to make friends and identify some of the adults who’ll be at the school to help. This can take away some of the fear and trepidation of moving up to the big school, when they aren’t confident about what help will be at hand.
We can introduce them to literacy learning programmes (especially on reading) a little bit early, which gives them a head start and allows them to believe they can keep up with their more confident peers, and can do it on their own.
Finally, getting them into the school a week early allows us to teach them about how to learn more independently than perhaps they did in primary school. Equipping them with the ability to keep hold of their own timetable, to navigate around the school and to pack the right books and equipment can make all the difference in their first weeks and get them off to a flying start.
For me, the acid test is the reaction of the children themselves. They actually look forward to coming to our school and that makes me feel good about my job.
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