It’s a safe bet that if you mention working in a school setting to a friend, you will be challenged on the ‘long holidays’ and ‘9-3’ hours; a fallacy that frustrates many in the sector. Long working hours and well-deserved holidays (often punctuated with intense periods of preparation) are closer to the truth.
The current set-up, including the infamous 6-week summer holiday, could be headed for the scrap heap with headteachers from a leading union calling for an evidence based assessment. Michael Gove branded the 6-week break a relic of the 19th century, when it served a purpose allowing children to help out on farms in an agricultural society.”That world no longer exists”, Gove has declared, “and we can’t afford to have an education system that was essentially, set in the nineteenth century.”
Just over half (55%) of the National Association of Head Teachers members are in favour of restructuring term dates.
Academies currently have the freedom to set their own term times and schools will be permitted to do the same from September. However, it appears that few academies have made any changes to holidays, preferring instead to focus on other aspects such as the curriculum.
A report by the think-tank Reform found that just 6% of academies were adjusting their terms, most commonly reducing the length of the summer holiday and extending the October half term.
An in-depth report from the NAHT may provide a foundation of evidence upon which academies, and very soon, maintained schools, can make informed decisions regarding the benefits or potential negative effects of re-allocating school holidays.
Potential benefits, according the NAHT leaders, include reducing teachers’ stress and easing pressure on school staff who are cited as being “ready to drop” at the end of terms. A by-product of the changes, especially if a well-co-ordinated regional approach is adopted, could be a reduction in the hyper-inflated holiday prices during school holiday periods. Increasingly, holiday prices are hiked up during half-terms and summer holidays.
Parents have joined together to produce a 170,000 person strong petition calling for an end to price increases, the fifth most signed since the government established its e-petition website, leading David Cameron to call upon schools to “set their own term dates in conjunction with parents.”
A more even spread of school holidays, and the residual lowering of holiday prices during holidays, could lead to reduced absenteeism. Some parents currently remove their children from school during term time to save holiday costs, despite the issuance of fixed penalty notices (these could be seen as a trivial cost compared to the price differential).
Pupils’ attainment could also improve, according to a review of 39 American studies, which cites possible negative effects of ‘summer learning loss’ (the effect of lost learning during long summer holidays). Some of the interesting points raised include lower standardised test scores at the end of summer holidays than at the beginning. In addition, pupils are estimated by some to lose as much as two months of maths computational skills over the summer.
The findings of any NAHT commissioned report will be eagerly awaited by school leaders who can make informed decisions to better their outcomes. The potential damage to the nation’s farms, however, is yet to be quantified.