Will schools go back over the summer? All you need to know about the PM's big "catch up" plan

A five-minute read on the latest plans for the six-week break 


This week the chancellor Rishi Sunak said it was a  “tragedy” that many children will not be back in school until this autumn. He was speaking the day after the government's school u-turn, in which plans for all England's primary children to return for a month before the summer break were dropped. 

He said: “I personally think every day our children are not at school is a tragedy. It's obviously going to have an impact on their futures.” 

The government’s plans to re-open schools have been branded “rushed” and many parents are perplexed about the disparity between children - even in their own family. 

“So one of my kids is going to get 22 hours a week of classroom instruction beween now and the end of July whilst the other will get zero hours. I can’t get my head around how someone came up with this plan,” wrote author and Professor of Education at University of Brighton, Becky Allen this week. 

Regardless of which pupils get what classroom time and when, millions of children will miss up to 4-months of face-to-face teaching this academic year. 

It’s led to calls for summer schools and this week the PM promised a "massive summer catch-up operation". 

Will schools be open over the summer holidays?

At the moment there are no confirmed plans for schools to be open over the traditional summer break, which starts in England in July. But Boris Johnson raised speculation about some kind of holiday activities being introduced when he announced the government would be unveiling a ‘big summer catch-up’ when questioned at Wednesday’s daily press briefing over why he had allowed zoos to re-open while schools remained shut for most students. 

Where has the idea for summer “catch-up school” come from? 

This week the National Education Union, a trade union for school teachers, further education lecturers, education support staff and teaching assistants, has set forward a 10-point National Education Recovery Plan to the government including a proposal for a “summer holiday offer” to address the needs of isolated children and young people. 

Does the proposal include lessons and normal school activities across August?  

No, the NEU has suggested that local authorities are funded to make a summer holiday local offer to children and young people.  Local authorities should coordinate the planning of summer holiday clubs, particularly in areas of deprivation, so that children and young people have a safe place to go to and positive activities to engage and interest them, and build their confidence for a successful return to school in September.


So, no reading, writing or maths? 

Ministers are drawing up plans to offer summer camps for schoolchildren so working parents can have a break, but the big academic “catch-up” will not begin until September. It's thought that summer camps will offer arts, sport and support on wellbeing rather than reading, writing and maths.


What has the PM said so far about the catch-up plan? 

The prime minister said on Thursday: “We’re going to keep going, making sure that kids get the remedial help that they need for the stuff that they’ve missed for months so that they genuinely make up for the lost time.” He has promised to release more details next week of what catching up might look like for pupils in England. 


Who else is backing the plan?  

Summer holidays are already hard enough for parents, says the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, who has also urged “rapid action” for holiday schemes for school children, and also asked the government to fund free school meals over the summer. “The summer holidays are a particularly difficult period for these families, but Covid-19 has exacerbated a range of issues they are facing, not just financial but in terms of the networks of support they can access,” she said.


Is it true there may be summer schools in village halls? 

Possibly – yes. As school capacity is severely restricted by guidelines on social distancing and separating out existing classes into smaller groups of up to 15 pupils from much larger class sizes. When asked about increasing capacity for summer 2020 catch up activities, by creating extra classrooms or using village halls for example, a government spokesman said the government was "looking at exactly what might be required to get all children back".

The House of Commons Education Committee chairman, Robert Halfon, has called for a Nightingale Hospital-style plan to get schools back to capacity.


Will they need to bring teachers out of retirement? 

There has been no information – yet – on the staffing plans for summer school but Number 10 have not ruled out bringing teachers out of retirement. The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, Paul Whiteman, said the catch up plan would suffer from a lack of input from the teaching profession. Many teachers have worked a large number of additional hours since lockdown began in addition to trying to care for their own families. 


Are there even enough qualified teachers if social distancing measures are to be observed? 

The Chief Executive of United Learning and former Director General in UK Department for Education, Jon Coles, says the maths doesn’t add up. He wrote this week: “With at least 585,000 groups of no more than 15 and at least 10% non-contact time, we need at least 650,000 teachers. There are 450,000 people teaching in England, some of them clinically vulnerable, so we would need at least 250,000 extra teachers. There is no realistic way of getting that number of qualified people into schools.” 


Who else could “teach” the children?

Some education experts are calling for youth workers, sports coaches and art practitioners to work alongside educators and family support to run a free, local programme of outdoor social activities for children and young people. 


Will schools remain open for children of key workers in the summer? 

No. education secretary Gavin Williamson said there would be “a reasonable expectation that parents would expect schools not to be open over the course of the summer”. Although the government made provisions to keep schools running for vulnerable pupils and children of key workers over the Easter holidays, schools will not currently remain open for the children of frontline workers over the summer holidays.


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