How to make your Pupil Premium Summer School a success


Pupil Premium-funded Summer Schools are helping pupils to make the difficult leap from year 6 to 7 and recent research has revealed the secrets to setting up, running and embedding a successful Summer School programme. Kerry Martin explains.

The efficacy of initiatives which use the long summer break to prepare children for life at secondary school has been the subject of much debate. But evidence from a recent evaluation of the government’s Summer Schools programme seems to suggest that such schemes can have a genuine and positive impact on the young people they are intended to serve.

Launched in September 2011 by the Department for Education (DfE), the programme provides funding to schools, as part of the Pupil Premium, to help disadvantaged pupils make a successful transition to year 7. 

It targets pupils eligible for free school meals (for 2013’s Summer Schools programme, this will include those pupils who have been eligible for FSM at any point in the past six years) and those looked after continuously for more than six months by the local authority. 

The impetus for the Summer Schools programme stems from findings that disadvantaged pupils currently underperform in education compared to their peers. But more than that, evidence also shows that there can be a dip in performance for such pupils as they transfer from primary to secondary school and those that do fall behind at this stage sometimes never catch up. 

So the Summer Schools programme offers a specific intervention at transition to help pupils start their secondary education ready to learn. 

The specific aims for Summer Schools are:

  • To allow pupils to see their new school environment.

  • To enable schools to familiarise themselves with their new pupils, including identifying any additional needs they may have.

  • To improve the educational attainment of disadvantaged children, ensuring gains in primary school are not lost on transfer.

In the first year of operation, a total of 1,776 Summer Schools were held across England between July and September. NFER and research partner Ecorys evaluated the initiative through a survey completed by 877 schools and case study visits to 10 schools on two occasions, involving interviews with staff, pupils and parents/carers. 

What we found seems to suggest the Summer Schools scheme has hit on a successful formula for schools to help ease the transition from primary to secondary among pupils who may otherwise struggle with this change. 

Participating schools told us that the initiative allowed them to offer a range of activities geared towards the needs of their incoming year 7 students. 

Of the schools responding to the survey, 94 per cent considered their Summer School a success and 95 per cent would take part in the programme again. 

According to school staff, Summer Schools helped set pupils up for a positive start to their secondary education with the greatest benefit being the positive effect it had on pupils’ social and emotional wellbeing.

Secrets of success

So what are the secrets of success when it comes to running a Summer School? Based on our findings, we have put together some helpful hints covering all aspects of Summer School provision – from designing and planning activities to running successful sessions.

Designing/planning a Summer School

Identify your disadvantaged pupils

  • Make early contact with feeder primary school staff so that they can help identify disadvantaged pupils and market the Summer School to families.

  • Access the Key to Success website and identify which of the incoming year 7 pupils are eligible for the DfE Summer School. Visit

Set and review your aims and objectives

  • Set clear aims and objectives for your Summer School, so that there is a shared understanding about what your school wants to achieve. Check that your aims are aligned with those the DfE has set out for the programme.

  • Ensure you have processes in place to measure the impact the Summer School has in achieving personal, social and educational objectives. 

Review your funding arrangements

  • Review the availability of additional resources to make the Summer School funding go further. This might include other school funding, donations from local businesses or volunteer time.

  • Ensure that school governors are made aware of how the Summer School funding is being spent and how this will have an impact on pupil outcomes so that they can monitor progress.

Decide upon an appropriate length and structure

  • Take a “long-term view” of the Summer School as part of the wider experience of transition for pupils and think about integrating Summer School strategies and activities within teaching and learning in year 7.

  • Consider the timing and duration of your Summer School and ensure that there is sufficient time to cover what you aim to achieve.

Ensure the availability of staff

  • If possible, involve a wide range of staff from the school so that pupils get to know a range of teachers and support staff. Also include members of the year 7 teaching team to provide continuity for the pupils and enable staff to become familiar with the needs of the new intake.

  • Make teaching staff available to plan activities jointly and if the Summer School is being sub-contracted to an external agency, ensure the approach is fully joined-up.

Design a high-quality programme of activities

  • Involve parents/carers and pupils in designing Summer School activities. This will ensure they have some ownership of the programme and that it meets their needs.

  • Consider working with other local schools to deliver a joint Summer School or work in partnership with external providers where they can offer added value. Ensure that all activities are planned jointly with school staff to form a coherent programme.

Set in place appropriate support for pupils

  • Review the learning and pastoral support needs within the new year 7 cohort, and plan the type and level of classroom support accordingly.

  • Consider whether pupils have any specific travel requirements, particularly if they are travelling far or if they are the only pupil making that journey, and offer support accordingly (such as travel maps, bus pickups).

Publicise/recruit pupils to the Summer School

  • Consider whether a written invitation is the most appropriate way of communicating with parents/carers and give a deadline for confirming attendance.

  • For schools that have already run a Summer School, use “alumni” as advocates for the programme and provide incentives for participation, such as team points or discount schemes that are redeemable for school uniform.

Running a Summer School

Deliver an inspiring mix of activities

  • Include a combination of activities such as “fun” sports and arts together with curricular-themed activities delivered in a creative way. Plan to include something different or innovative to attract pupils to attend.

  • Ensure that the Summer School places a sufficient focus on literacy and numeracy. This might include the use of embedded literacy or numeracy, delivered via practical activities such as drama or quizzes. Provide targeted support to disadvantaged pupils (especially if your Summer School is open to other pupils as well).

Make use of different locations and spaces

  • Provide opportunities for pupils to familiarise themselves with the school buildings and environment. For example, a treasure hunt can be a fun activity and help pupils to become oriented to their new surroundings.

  • Consider the merits of running some activities off-site, to give disadvantaged pupils new experiences and to challenge and inspire them.

Address the social/emotional aspects of transition

  • Find time within the programme of Summer School activities to openly discuss topics that might be causing pupils concern, such as bullying or making new friends. Clearly explain the practical support that is in place in school and what pupils should do if they need help or advice. 

  • Consider involving older pupils to support the pupils moving into year 7. New pupils get to meet the “big” pupils in year 11 and/or the 6th form.

Promote parental engagement

  • Consider the merits of running some activities to engage parents/carers, such as cookery classes or family learning and celebration events.

  • Involve parents/carers in delivery as volunteers, for example by engaging them with English as an Additional Language (EAL) to deliver cultural or language-themed activities within the Summer School.

Embedding Summer School activities

Build on information about individual pupils 

  • Find opportunities to make the link with pupils’ learning at home, through worksheets, activities or reading for the duration of the summer holidays.

  • Ensure that any valuable insights into pupils’ needs gained through the Summer School are used to plan ahead for year 7. This might include setting in place additional individualised support, running additional catch-up classes, or raising safeguarding concerns through the appropriate channels.

Embed learning at a whole-school level 

  • Share the Summer School learning and the information about its impact you have collected with other staff, perhaps through a short staff meeting. Update school governors so they know what the school has done.

  • Consider any transferable learning for other areas of the school, including the wider year 7 transition programme, curricula, or learner support.

  • Kerry Martin is a senior research manager with the National Foundation for Educational Research.

Further information
For more on the NFER Summer School research findings and best practice, visit:
NFER Research Insights
A partnership between SecEd and the NFER has seen the publication of an ongoing series of research-based articles offering practical and useful advice and information to help schools improve outcomes in key areas. Teachers are invited to download a free PDF download of all eight Research Insight articles to date, including topics such as computer games in the classroom, 21st century skills, healthy eating, preventing NEETs, and self-evaluation. Download the PDF at


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