Should school classrooms really be abandoned for two months each summer?
It’s that time of year when many Britons look forward with childish pleasure to as many as 63 days away from the classroom – long summer holidaydays when they can scamper around with gleeful abandon and forget about the stresses of school life.
I’m talking, of course, about teachers but do these long school holidays really benefit children and parents as much?
In 2011, when Conservative cabinet minister Michael Gove proposed that state schools should consider cutting the length of the school summer holiday, he provoked howls of protest from many parents, newspaper readers, children and teachers. Margaret Thatcher probably faced less opposition when she withdrew free school milk from kids’ lips in the 1970s!
However, and, I can only speak from personal experience, I always thought the school summer holidays were far too long. When I was a state school pupil I found that the six-week summer break dragged on and on. And during my brief time as a private school pupil I found that a nine-week summer holiday was interminable.
I must make it clear that this doesn’t mean I was a pupil who wanted to spend every weekday of the year sat at a school desk. Instead, I would have preferred it if there had been more one-week breaks during the school year, instead of an incredibly long September-to-December school term and a very long summer holiday.
Long summer holidays certainly seemed to suit my school friends whose families were wealthy (or time-rich) enough to go on holidays to exotic, faraway locations or organise expensive entertainment (horse-riding lessons etc.) to while away the summer hours.
For the rest of us there was the dreary prospect of months of making our own entertainment in and around the streets where we lived; often getting into trouble in the process. I’m not saying that this wasn’t character-building as boredom is a part of adult life that we all need to deal with at some time or another. But the feeling of heading back to school for a four-month long school term after six weeks of aimlessness definitely gave me the feeling that the school year had little balance to it.
And while many teachers crave and definitely deserve a long summer break to re-charge their batteries, it is a mistake to think that all of them are in favour of lengthy school holidays.
Brighton primary school teacher Sarah Wilkins told me: “Many kids really regress academically after the long summer break. This is particularly noticeable with the basic maths and literacy skills of lower-achieving pupils. I would say that the first month of the autumn term is often spent trying to refresh pupils’ skills and get them back to the stage they were at before the summer holidays.”
Sarah is also keen to correct the assumption that teachers spend the summer holidays partying hard and living a life of leisure. She said: “I think I’m fairly typical in that I tend to spend the month before the start of the autumn term preparing lessons. The curriculum changes so frequently; you have to work most of the year-round to keep on top of it.”
The school summer holiday was originally designed so that farmers’ children could have time off during the warmest months to help their families collect the harvest. Today, this practice of kids helping with the harvest is mostly obsolete and so shouldn’t the length of the school summer holidays be re-examined; especially considering how costly it is for working parents to enrol their kids at costly holiday clubs?
Michael Gove seems to have dropped the idea of shortening the school holidays. You can still lobby him on the subject but you’ll have to be quick – the parliamentary summer holidays run from 17th July 2012 to 3rd September 2012. These seven weeks rather conveniently coincide with the school summer holidays, meaning thatour Right Honourable Members of Parliament are perhaps the only workers who are capable of looking after their children without resorting to making costly child-care arrangements!