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What support do children need this summer?

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On 18th March 2021, Dr Kelly Morgan attended the International Public Policy Observatory on COVID-19 roundtable discussing summer support programmes for schoolchildren. She reports back on the conclusions reached

Kelly Morgan

On behalf of DECIPHer, I attended the International Public Policy Observatory‘s latest roundtable event discussing how summer support programmes for schoolchildren should best be designed and structured. Over 40 attendees across the UK attended the event, with representation from academics, policy makers and practitioners.

During the event we discussed three key questions:

· What does the evidence tell us about what should be done during the summer holidays?

· Which of these actions should be prioritised, and for which groups?

· What is the best mix of national and local action to make this happen?

In terms of what should be done, discussions centred around opportunities for children to engage in unstructured activities providing play, physical activity and healthy food. The role of existing summer holiday provisions was noted as key, with a need to capitalise on existing community links and share learnings across nations. The School Holiday Enrichment Programme (SHEP) in Wales was noted as an example of good practice, with a number of schemes running across Wales and the programme expanding each year.

In light of the past year and COVID-19 constraints placed on children’s daily lives, the need for space to socialise with friends and reconnect was considered paramount

Impacts of the pandemic on children’s physical health and mental wellbeing were discussed as food security, increasing sedentary lifestyles and general worries and concerns continue to present important challenges. Particular challenges relating to children across the age ranges were also debated, with impacts on language developments, confidence and key life skills and missed opportunities during transition phases (e.g. from primary to secondary school or transition to further education).

A lot of debate took place around the focus on ‘catch-up’ with a need to allow children the freedom to enjoy socialising and play without the pressures of catching up on the missed time for education (i.e. not filled with extra lessons). In light of the past year and COVID-19 constraints placed on children’s daily lives, the need for space to socialise with friends and reconnect was considered paramount. Opportunities for teachers and parents to have the time and space to recover was also noted.

Since the event, a short policy note has been released outlining seven guiding principles to underpin the UK’s approach to supporting our children this summer:

1. A ‘summer reset’ should be a national priority

2. Summer programmes should not look like school

3. The programmes should be locally-led

4. The programmes should be nationally supported

5. They should be open to all children, but focused on the most disadvantaged

6. Programmes must closely involve parents and volunteers

7. A ‘plan B’ is also needed, in case of further lockdown restrictions

More about the IPPO policy note and the seven guiding principles can be read here. Thanks to IPPO for inviting me to be part of this vital and, hopefully, restorative process.

Kelly Morgan is a Research Fellow at DECIPHer. The substantive focus of her research is the improvement of the health and well-being of children and young people. More information on The School Holiday Enrichment Programme (SHEP) can be found here and her previous work on summer holidays and mental health here.