Discover Summer School

The Discover Summer School was a four-week programme which aimed to improve the reading and writing skills of children during the summer between Year 6 and Year 7. The programme was targeted at pupils who had been predicted to achieve below Level 4b in English by the end of Key Stage 2.

The programme involved morning workshops focused on writing and poetry delivered by trained teachers, professional authors and poets, and enrichment activities provided in a four-week summer school. Pupils meeting the eligibility criteria for the study, and due to transition from Year 6 to Year 7 in 2013, were recruited through 29 primary schools in proximity to the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford, London in July and August 2013. The study involved 124 pupils from 29 local schools, of whom 76 were randomly selected to attend the summer school; the remaining 48 formed a comparison group.

The evaluation was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation as one of 23 projects focused on literacy catch-up at the primary-secondary transition. It was one of two summer school programmes funded, and one of three programmes with a particular focus on writing.

Key Conclusions

The following conclusions summarise the project outcome

  1. The evaluation was unable to provide a secure estimate of the programme’s impact on reading or writing attainment, due to the low number of pupils who took part and the problems with testing.

  2. The programme was relatively expensive compared to other literacy catch-up approaches delivered in the normal school year.

  3. Given the relative cost of the programme, even if the indicative impact which was detected had been secure, as a way of improving academic outcomes other approaches are likely to be more cost-effective.

  4. Participating pupils enjoyed the programme and were engaged by the literacy workshops and the enrichment activities.

  5. The specific challenges of pupil recruitment, attendance and test completion experienced should be considered prior to undertaking any further evaluations of summer schools.

What is the impact?

The evaluation sought to compare the literacy skills of pupils who attended the summer school with similar pupils who did not attend the summer school. The indicative effect sizes detected were 0.24 in writing and 0.21 in reading. This can be envisaged as saying that pupils who participated in the project made approximately three additional months’ progress compared to similar pupils who did not participate. However, the effect sizes were not statistically significant, which means that the differences between the pupils who attended the summer school and those who did not could have been down to chance.

The conclusions which can be drawn from this study are severely limited due to the small number of families who agreed to participate in the trial, and to subsequent problems with testing, detailed further below. The low pupil numbers also meant that it was not possible to conduct a separate analysis of the impact of the programme on students eligible for free school meals.

Though the evaluation was primarily focused on measuring attainment, the observations which took place suggested that most children were engaged by and enjoyed the summer school. Staff were supportive and children were encouraged to think creatively about their writing. The interactive approach in poetry sessions in particular appeared to motivate pupils.

All pupils (Writing)124+0.24+3 -0.42 to 0.92
All pupils (Reading)124+0.21+3-0.41 to 0.83

How secure is the finding?

This evaluation was set up as an efficacy trial. Efficacy trials seek to test evaluations in the best possible conditions, but they do not seek to demonstrate that the findings hold at scale in all types of schools.

An individually randomised controlled trial design was employed to compare outcomes for pupils attending the summer school with outcomes for pupils in a ‘business as usual’ comparison group who did not attend. Eligible and consenting pupils were randomised on an individual basis to either the intervention or comparison group. At the end of the intervention period all trial pupils were asked to complete the Progress in English test developed by GL Assessment, with the primary outcome measure being based on two extended writing tasks. Pupils in the comparison group were offered additional reading and writing support delivered on one Saturday in the autumn term of 2013.

However, the intervention and evaluation suffered a number of substantial setbacks. The initial recruitment target of 250 pupils was not achieved by Discover, with only 124 eligible pupils agreeing to take part in the intervention and evaluation. The length of the summer school and the timing of the recruitment phase made recruitment more difficult: many parents had already booked holidays or made alternative plans for the summer by the time they were invited to participate. In addition, a large proportion of pupils in both the intervention and comparison groups did not complete the tests. These problems made it impossible to detect a statistically significant effect size and increased the possibility of bias as the pupils who sat the tests may have been systematically different from those who did not. As a result, the evaluation findings are insecure.

To view the project's evaluation protocol click here.

How much does it cost?

The cost of the programme is estimated at £1,750 per pupil. This estimate includes venue hire, food and travel (estimated at £635 per pupil), direct salary costs of staff (£773), promotion and contingency (£94) and management and overheads (£288). This estimate is based on 125 pupils attending a summer school on a single site.