Organising a summer school


Summer schools can help to ease the anxiety of transition for year 6 pupils. Headteacher Les Rippon advises on how to prepare and run an effective summer school

In recent years, secondary schools across the UK have begun to implement summer schools for prospective year 7 pupils – including some with specific funding from the Pupil Premium Summer Schools programme.

There are numerous reasons as to why summer schools can be beneficial to year 6 leavers and help bridge the gap between primary and secondary education. Now in its fourth year, the summer school at St Francis Xavier’s College in Liverpool (SFX) has become integral to our process of monitoring and facilitating successful transition.

I would encourage all schools to consider running a similar programme and reap the rewards of successfully preparing new pupils. 

So how do you go about setting up a summer school and how do you overcome the challenges involved?

When planning a summer school, it is always useful to start early. Secondary school places are allocated in the Easter term, and from this point you will have a good idea of how many pupils will be attending in September, as well as the feeder schools involved.

Sending staff into primary schools to meet new pupils is an effective way of spreading the word about your summer school, to both year 6 teachers, children and parents. 

Introducing this as a possibility will be of interest to children who will be looking forward to starting year 7 with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. It is also a useful way to build relationships between future pupils and staff, which are developed during the summer school and already established by September.

The early stages of setting up a summer school involve making key decisions regarding who will be involved and the focus of the programme. Two weeks is an optimum time period to make the most of a busy programme, and I would advise placing the summer school at the beginning of the break – before families go on holiday – to maximise participation.

Some schools tailor summer schemes to cater for specific groups of children, such as those eligible for free school meals, those with additional needs or those who have been identified as particularly vulnerable. This selective approach gives schools the opportunity to focus on children who may struggle to settle in as easily as others and therefore provides additional support ahead of the academic year. 

Other schools, including SFX, prefer to adopt an inclusive approach and offer the summer school to all prospective pupils. This gives both staff and children the opportunity to mix in larger groups and feel as if they are part of something much bigger.

However, with an inclusive approach, both financial and practical aspects must be considered. Schools will need to budget, and access funding, for summer schools and cover costs such as opening the building and paying for qualified teaching staff. Controlling numbers may also be an issue if uptake is particularly high, and schools may need to adopt a first-come, first-served approach and allocate a set number of places.

Another main factor to consider is the focus of the summer school – do you want to coordinate an academic programme or a sports-based scheme?

At SFX, we run a sports programme as it has proven benefits in terms of team-building and creating a fun and energetic environment. This is partly due to the fact that SFX is an all-boys school and we are fortunate enough to have outstanding sports facilities. Depending on facilities, schools could offer a range of team sports including football, cricket, rugby or athletics. However, a word of advice: alternative game-based activities, such as table tennis, should be set up for those children who may feel less inclined to play team sports.

Alternatively, schools may wish to run an academic programme and introduce pupils to new subjects and learning environments. For many children entering year 7, concerns relating to school work and academic pressures are common and so providing taster lessons in a more relaxed atmosphere can be a fantastic way of preparing them for the year ahead.

Giving the pupils an opportunity to discover specialist equipment and explore science laboratories will help familiarise them with their environment. It also gives teachers an initial idea of the strengths and weaknesses of individual pupils as well as the dynamic of the year group as a whole.

I would advise that, regardless of approach, children are given plenty of opportunities to explore the school site so that when September arrives, they feel confident navigating the school buildings independently.

Pastoral support is perhaps more vital in year 7 than in than any other year of secondary school. New pupils enter a school that is very different to primary school and find themselves in an environment dominated by teenagers, while they are very much still children. Therefore, instilling self-confidence and nurturing self-esteem is essential during the summer school.

One of the ways this can be achieved is through an awards system. In the belief that children react well to positive recognition, we host an awards ceremony at the end of each week of the summer school. While every child is given a certificate for taking part, certain individuals are awarded. Rewarding children for their individual strengths is essential in boosting self-confidence and encouraging a positive outlook. What’s more, it is relatively easy to implement and also develops positive relationships between staff and pupils.

While nurturing the relationship between staff and pupils is important, schools might want to consider using older pupils to help facilitate the summer school. At SFX, we task sixth form students with the responsibility of leading the majority of activities and motivating the younger pupils to get involved. This has proven to be a fantastic way of creating a dynamic environment that is mutually beneficial to both sixth-formers, who can develop their leadership skills, and young participants.

Once the academic term begins, these sixth-formers then become mentors for the younger pupils and act as a bridge between them and teaching staff. Young pupils generally respond well to having an older role-model around to give them inside information as to how the school works and to help them find their way – both literally and metaphorically.

Finally, I would advise any senior management team looking to set up a summer school to involve parents wherever possible. Many parents are understandably worried when their child goes to secondary school, so any opportunity to put their minds at ease should be taken. Inviting them to a part of the summer school in some way, such as attending the awards ceremony, is a pleasant way to involve parents. 

However, I would advise that schools encourage parents to see the summer school as symbolic of a new found independence for their child. Perhaps ask them to allow their child to try out the school run alone, or with friends, during the school so they are less worried on the first day of school. 

Ultimately, a successful summer school is reliant upon detailed planning, careful consideration of the needs of its participants and a healthy dose of enthusiasm. Taking the time to welcome new pupils and thoroughly introduce them into the school environment can make all the difference in making sure new pupils get off to a flying start.

  • Les Rippon is headteacher of St Francis Xavier’s College in Liverpool.

Further information
The Pupil Premium Summer Schools programme:

CAPTION: Well-prepared: Pupils at St Francis Xavier’s, which runs a regular year 6 to 7 summer school to support successful transition (Photo: St Francis Xavier’s College)



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