A KEY theme of the Scottish Parliament’s current inquiry into the impact of poverty on school attainment has been what happens during the summer holidays.

While welcomed by pupils, the impact of seven weeks off on their education can be significant.

Research has shown that so-called ‘learning loss’ does occur over the summer holiday, particularly for children living in areas of high deprivation.

There are also additional costs for parents which are more acutely felt by low income families. In particular, those in receipt of free school meals have the added challenge of providing an extra meal for children.

A 2015 report by the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland concluded: “Families on low incomes experience a range of challenges during holiday periods, including financial pressures and difficulties in sourcing childcare or holiday activities which are accessible, affordable

and fit with parental employment and the needs of the family.

“This can lead to practical and emotional difficulties for parents and less likelihood that children from low income households access stimulating, enjoyable and beneficial experiences throughout the holidays.”

The report said high quality summer programmes providing reliable and flexible childcare and preventing holiday malnourishment could help narrow the attainment gap between rich and poor during the summer rather than widen it.

These are all important reasons why Scouting Scotland has come forward with the suggestion that its programmes would be ideally suited to helping families during the summer holidays.

There are many others who have contacted Holyrood’s education committee with their own suggestions of how to make a difference.

Scottish children’s charity Aberlour has highlighted its summer food programme in Falkirk, which teaches families to cook cheaply and healthily.

In Edinburgh, Tynecastle High School has developed a partnership with the Salvation Army to provide food parcels during school holidays.

Dalmarnock Primary School, in the east end of Glasgow, which serves one of the poorest communities in Scotland, now opens the school for a summer club during the holidays. Meanwhile, North Lanarkshire Council is providing free meals to children who need them 365 days a year.

Dr Terry Wrigley, poverty expert and visiting professor at Northumbria University, backed such initiatives in his submission to the committee.

“Strategy should be developed for free provision of activity schemes with a mix of physical and leisure activity, excursions, help with literacy and numeracy, library, challenging computer games and so on,” he said.

Lorna Walker, a former inspector of schools in Scotland, believes even more radical approaches might be necessary and called on councils to consider a shake up of school term patterns “so that learning is not lost during long summer holidays”.