Oh for a normal summer – so close now, but Covid remains capricious, a wave across Europe threatening to wash it all away. But just think: for some schoolchildren, and their parents, the normality of the long six-week summer break may not be such an appealing prospect.
Sure, the middle-classes are able to pack it with enriching activities – exciting new skills, friendships and memories. But, for kids in families with stretched budgets, it can be isolating, impoverishing, boring. And, as quite a substantial body of evidence now shows, very bad for their emotional and cognitive development – some studies even conclude that the majority of the attainment gap between rich and poor children can be explained by the cumulative impact of successive summer breaks.
After a year of spending so little time in school, with the structure, socialisation and stimulation it brings, we really need to rethink urgently whether children, especially those from less privileged homes, would benefit from spending the usual extended period of time away from it over the summer.
The learning loss from Covid is highly likely to be profound, especially for students from lower income backgrounds. Evidence flagged by a British Academy report this week on previous examples of educational absence, including teachers strikes and natural disasters, confirms this. Teachers have been doing a heroic job during the pandemic, continuing to teach the full curriculum through both classroom and remote teaching. But the brutal truth is that many children just won’t have absorbed it.
Work from both the LSE and the IFS has shown that, during the first lockdown of 2020, children from higher-income backgrounds were much more likely to have the equipment for and the experience of a full (albeit virtual) school day. Worryingly, up to quarter of pupils received no schooling or tutoring at all during this period.