Background: Summer learning loss has been the subject of longstanding concern among researchers, the public and policy makers. The aim of the current research was to investigate inequality changes in children’s mental health and cognitive ability across the summer holidays. Methods: We conducted linear and logistic regression analysis of mental health (borderline-abnormal total difficulty and prosocial scores on the strengths and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ)) and verbal cognitive ability (reading, verbal reasoning or vocabulary) at ages 7, 11 and 14, comparing UK Millennium Cohort Study members who were interviewed before and after the school summer holidays. Inequalities were assessed by including interaction terms in the outcome models between a discrete binary variable with values representing time periods and maternal academic qualifications. Coefficients of the interaction terms were interpreted as changes from the pre- to post-holiday period in the extent of inequality in the outcome between participants whose mothers had high or low educational qualifications. Separate models were fitted for each age group and outcome. We used inverse probability weights to allow for differences in the characteristics of cohort members assessed before and after the summer holidays. Results: Mental health (borderline/abnormal SDQ total and prosocial scores) at ages 7 and 14 worsened and verbal cognitive ability scores at age 7 were lower among those surveyed after the summer holidays. Mental health inequalities were larger after the holidays at age 7 ([OR = 1.4; 95%CI (0.6, 3.2) and 14: [OR = 1.5; 95%CI (0.7, 3.2)], but changed little at age 11 (OR = 0.9; 95%CI (0.4, 2.6)]. There were differences in pro-social behaviours among those surveyed before/after the school holidays at age 14 [OR = 1.2; 95%CI (0.5, 3.5)] but not at age 7 or 11. There was little change in inequalities in verbal cognitive ability scores over the school holidays [Age 7: b = 1.3; 95%CI (− 3.3, 6.0); Age 11: b = − 0.7; 95%CI (− 4.3, 2.8); Age 14: b = − 0.3; 95%CI (− 1.0, 0.4)]. Conclusion: We found inequalities in mental health and cognitive ability according to maternal education, and some evidence or worsening mental health and mental health inequalities across school summer holidays. We found little evidence of widening inequalities in verbal cognitive ability. Widespread school closures during the COVID-19 restrictions have prompted concerns that prolonged closures may widen health and educational inequalities. Management of school closures should focus on preventing or mitigating inequalities that may arise from differences in the support for mental health and learning provided during closures by schools serving more or less disadvantaged children.

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Kromydas, T., Campbell, M., Chambers, S., Hilton Boon, M., Pearce, A., Wells, V. & Craig, P. 2022, 'The effects of school summer holidays on inequalities in children and young people's mental health and cognitive ability in the UK. A secondary analysis from the Millennium cohort study', BMC Public Health, 22, article no: 154 . http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12889-022-12540-2

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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