Summer holiday food, activities and childcare programme: evaluation report - summer 2022

Evaluation report for the 2022 summer holiday food, activities and childcare programme (summer 2022). The research draws in-depth qualitative findings from a selected group of local authorities and some quantitative findings.

Executive summary


The overall aim of the 2022 Summer Programme was to ensure that eligible families benefitted from a range of activities, food and childcare provision that met their needs during the school summer holidays. The Scottish Government provided local authorities with £10 million in additional funding to target provision at CYP (aged 5 to 14) from low-income families.

The Scottish Government commissioned Ipsos to evaluate the 2022 Programme. The overall aim of the evaluation was to assess whether the Programme met its intended outcomes and met the needs of the CYP and families it intended to support, as well as identifying what has worked well or what could be improved in terms of delivery. The findings of the evaluation will be used to inform and shape the year-round school age childcare commitment and the accompanying monitoring and evaluation approach. The evaluation included three main elements:

  • in-depth interviews with parents and CYP in case study areas;
  • in-depth interviews with case study local authority representatives and provider organisation representatives, including an online workshop;
  • review of quantitative monitoring data on attendance and activity types submitted to the Scottish Government from local authorities.

When considering the findings (summarised below), it is important to keep in mind that all research is subject to challenges and limitations. In this case, the qualitative research design means that estimates of the prevalence of particular views or experiences are inappropriate. Furthermore, the opt-in nature of recruiting families, and the fact that families who did not access provision did not take part, may have affected the findings. It is possible that CYP recall became more limited as fieldwork progressed. Finally, the timeframe for this evaluation meant that it focused more on the short- and medium-term outcomes from the Summer Programme. Further research would be required to assess any potential longer-term impacts.

Overview of Summer Programme and planning the offer

A wide range of activities were delivered through the Summer Programme funding in line with the intended outputs of the logic model. The funding had enabled local authorities and their partner organisations to improve their summer provision for CYP by: enhancing their existing provision; increasing the reach of existing activities to the target groups; adding new activities to their summer provision.

The ways in which programmes were designed in order to reach the target groups ranged from universally available services with some funded places, to activities for specific target groups only, such as programmes for CYP with ASN, vulnerable families, and refugees. Healthy free food was provided at most activities. Free transport was typically only provided if a need was identified.

A number of challenges were identified in relation to programme planning:

  • a lack of capacity among existing teams and difficulties recruiting suitably trained, seasonal staff;
  • the timing of the confirmation of the funding and subsequent short lead-in times, resulting in difficulties reaching the target groups, the quality and design of provision, procuring services and value for money;
  • food provision challenges such as minimising food waste, preparation time and the need for all day food provision;
  • the expense of providing free transport to all CYP.

Participation and reach

Local authorities worked closely with partner organisations to both identify and reach the intended target groups, using a range of approaches. Approaches related to both the type of programme and its specific target audience. A mix of wider advertising and direct invitations was employed to communicate the Programme.

Providers considered how to engage families in a non-stigmatising way and this appeared to have been largely successful. Effective communication approaches included: positive existing relationships with families; place-based approaches; careful use of language; assuring parents of confidentiality.

Broadly speaking, providers were pleased with the level of attendance at activities. However, there was variation, from activities being full and operating waiting lists to those being withdrawn due to low attendance. Cross-cutting barriers to participation in Summer Programme activities included: activities being free meaning no consequences for families to sign up and then not attend; families living in challenging circumstances struggling to prioritise activities; associated costs for attending; transport barriers; appeal, choice and description of activities.

Cross-cutting enablers to participation included: providing free activities and including food; existing positive relationships with families; issuing reminders and operating waiting lists; making activities as easy as possible to get to. Provision for CYP with ASN was delivered by both adapting universal provision running targeted provision for CYP with ASN only. Additional challenges were faced delivering these programmes, in particular having suitably qualified staff.

Perceived impacts for children and young people

CYP were able to try various new activities. This made programmes exciting and enjoyable and CYP were typically keen to do them again. Where CYP felt they had choice, this was viewed positively and could increase enjoyment and motivation to attend. However, where there was not much choice, but CYP enjoyed what was on offer, they did not seem to mind having limited options.

There were mixed views from CYP and parents on whether food provided was healthy and met their needs. Particularly in programmes with a greater focus on food there had been some wider impacts. These included: developing kitchen skills; trying foods they would not normally eat; and learning about healthy eating.

It was clear that CYP enjoyed outdoor elements of programmes. There was some evidence of CYP spending more time outside than usual as a result of attending activities. There was also evidence of CYP spending time outside their usual environment and of this being a very positive element of programmes. Indeed, for some CYP, visiting new places on trips was a highlight.

There were opportunities to take part in physical activity at a number of programmes. There was some evidence of the Summer Programme leading to an increase in physical activity during and after the summer.

It was clear that CYP enjoyed the activities they took part in and that there were a number of wellbeing benefits. These included: feeling happy; increased confidence; having a routine; feeling calm and relaxed; improved mental health and gaining independence. Spending time with friends or making new friends was important to the enjoyment of programmes. For some CYP this was the best part.

Perceived impacts for parents and carers

There was evidence to suggest that the Summer Programme helped working parents continue to work or made it easier to do so. However, this was dependent on the timing of activities, as well as other practical factors.

The Summer Programme provided parents with valuable respite time. Parents mentioned using the time they had while CYP were attending activities to do household chores; rest and relax; socialise; or spend time with other children.

Parents who were asked or invited to attend activities along with their children did not experience the benefits of being able to work or have respite time away from their child(ren). This was particularly true of parents of children with ASN. However, a key benefit for those who attended activities was reduced social isolation and having the opportunity to connect with other parents.

There was generally no cost to attending Summer Programme activities. However, there was sometimes a nominal fee or indirect costs. When families said the Summer Programme had saved them money, this was usually on activity fees or food. There were also parents who would have missed out on work opportunities without the funded provision.

Parents described various ways in which the Summer Programme had increased their own wellbeing, including peace of mind (that children were entertained and looked after); improved family relationships; having routine and structure; and mental health benefits from joining in with activities or trips themselves.

Perceived impacts for local authorities and delivery partners

Overall, there was a sense that cross-sector working had been a strength of summer programmes and is the result of relationship-building at the community level over time. There was also a perception that the funding had helped to enhance partnerships in the longer-term between partners and local authorities that were involved. Having partnerships in place to offer summer provision in a targeted way that caters to a particular group was identified as a key benefit of partnership working.

Key benefits of the funding for those involved in the planning and delivery of programmes included: enhanced cross-sector working and the ability to deliver more ambitious or expanded programmes. The short lead-in time for planning was the main challenge for providers, affecting everything from staffing, recruitment, and development of partnerships to the planning, communication and delivery of activities. It also had an impact on staff workloads and wellbeing.

Providers described ongoing learning about understanding the needs of low-income families from running their programmes. Enhanced cross-sector working was considered to be particularly important for this, as it was widely acknowledged that those working closest with CYP and their families all year round have the best understanding of their needs.

Key learning from the 2022 Summer Programme

Key features of the Summer Programme that helped to maximise positive impacts for families included: the range and choice of activities offered; the timing of activities; the flexibility of targeting criteria; food provision; partnership working; effective communication with families; and providing transport, where possible.

While this evaluation found that the Summer Programme generally met the needs of target families, there were some challenges discussed where further action may be needed to further reduce barriers to achieving the desired outcomes for CYP and families. These challenges included: the short lead in time; staffing the offer (particularly in terms of supporting CYP with ASN); targeting the offer; transport barriers; rural provision; catering for refugee families; and managing expectations.

Other cross-cutting barriers to attendance for families were activities that were too short to provide meaningful childare; providers not having enough time to provide extra support to engage families in challenging circumstances; instances where activities incurred direct or indirect costs or, alternatively, a perceived lack of commitment among families when activities were free; and a lack of appeal of activities or anxiety among CYP about attending.

Overall, providers were broadly happy with model for the funding for the Summer Programme. However the following were mentioned as areas for improvement.

  • There was a clear appetite for the funding to be awarded much earlier to support the planning process. An annual fund to cover all holiday periods, or a multi-year funding approach were suggested.
  • A more user-friendly and supportive application to help to widen the pool of providers applying for funding.
  • A simplified monitoring template with more guidance on how to complete it.



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