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School summer holidays – two weeks too long?

August 5th, 2010 by Teacher Talks

As I pack up the bucket and spade and head West for a week or two of Cornish relaxation, I’m struck with the thought:  what exactly is the point of the school summer holidays?  Not the packing up and going away bit – I don’t doubt for a moment the restorative powers of eating fish and chips in the car while the rain leaps off the bonnet –  but why six weeks?  I am just about young enough to remember the giddy excitement the first couple of weeks bring.  But I also remember the desperate search for something to do as week four turned into week five, after books had been read, bikes had been ridden and games had been played.

The reasons for such a long break are broadly historic.  In our agricultural heyday these were the months to be out in the fields, working the land with the help of long, light evenings.  Our economy has changed; the holidays have stayed the same.  But apart from the occasional bout of boredom, does this really matter?

Research (from the States) has shown a dip in achievement over the summer break, as you might expect.  This affects mathematics more than reading or writing although, just to complicate things, children from disadvantaged backgrounds lose more in their reading ability than middle-class children.

It must be said that none of these ‘dips’ are large, or in any way irretrievable once the child is safely back behind a desk.  But, they are dips nonetheless and could be ameliorated by pruning the long summer break back to four weeks and moving the extra days to other holidays around the year.

Something approaching a five-term year, with a consistent length of eight weeks in each term would give the school year more balance; it would help address the ‘summer dip’ as well as help teachers to effectively plan their work, knowing the time they have with the children in each term will be consistent year on year, rather than fluctuating from one term to the next.  It might just make life easier for parents, too.

Still, mustn’t grumble, the sea and sand is beckoning and I’m off to pack the sun-tan lotion.  And the umbrella, just in case.

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Comments [ 6 ]

  1. Lenny Hall Lenny Hall says:

    So true. Enjoy your holiday.

  2. Teacher Talks Teacher Talks says:

    Andrew – thanks for adding the link, a good post (‘great minds’ and all that!). I do think a change would be supported but it seems too much of a wrench for it actually to be done. I wonder if Academy (and Free) schools will alter their terms? It may be problematic to do it unilaterally – it would be very difficult for parents with siblings at two schools with two different holiday arrangements, but on a area or regional basis, I don’t see why not…

    Lenny – thanks!

  3. Jane Jane says:

    I don’t understand why parents cannot take it upon themselves to deter or mitigate this dip from occuring. My daughter has been doing workbooks for Maths and English in the last week in the lead up to returning to school. While I haven’t made this a priority, it is the school holidays, I have ensured that she has spent at least 15 minutes on it every few days. My point is that parents don’t have to rely on the school system all the time.

  4. Philip brindle Philip brindle says:

    I think you can apply the law of ubintended consequences here – although in this case they wil be easy to anticipate. Narrowing down the summer vacation will squezze up already inflated peak season holiday prices encouraging many more parents to request permission to take their children out of school for a 2+ week break in term time. Head teachers might well refuse but many parents will ignore this (a £50 fine is worth paying when the extra cost in peak period might be £500+) thus making a mockery of the regulations. Those who obey the letter might be so stumped for the price of what will be a very expensive holiday that the family goes without and many children won’t get the manifold advantages of a family visit to somewhere new.

  5. Teacher Talks Teacher Talks says:

    Good points Philip – thank you. This may have the effect of increasing holiday prices, but re-configuring the terms may actually spread the ‘peak’, give a longer holiday at different times of the year and allow more options (rather than just summer or Easter) if parents did want a 2 week holiday. But you are right to raise this and it’s certainly a complicating factor.

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