Six-week holiday is here to stay

A Generic photo of a boy working in a classroom at school. See PA Feature PARENTING Holidays. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/JupiterImages Corporation. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature PARENTING Holidays.
A Generic photo of a boy working in a classroom at school. See PA Feature PARENTING Holidays. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/JupiterImages Corporation. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature PARENTING Holidays.

LONG six week summer holidays are to stay at Sheffield schools - despite pressure from ministers to overhaul the structure of the school year.

City education officers believe changes would be a good idea - but many headteachers are unconvinced and councillors believe there are other more pressing priorities to deal with.

Education Secretary Michael Gove wants authorities to introduce terms of equal length which would cut the summer break from six weeks to four.

Experts argue a shorter holiday would boost education standards, as research shows pupils lose ground over the long break, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Youngsters lose concentration as the holidays approach and then take longer to settle into their learning on their return.

Dr Sonia Sharp, Sheffield Council’s executive director for children, young people and families, said: “Educational research has shown that breaks from learning for longer than four weeks are not in the best interests of children’s development.

“We know some headteachers and parents would be very keen to explore this further.”

But Sheffield is part of the vast majority of councils resisting change - only Nottingham is planning a new term structure, while three other authorities are currently holding consultations.

Sheffield last raised the possibility of introducing a six-term year more than a decade ago.

After extensive debate involving parents, teachers and their unions, no change was made to the summer holiday.

But reforms were introduced to the spring term, with the April break no longer dictated by the Easter holiday itself.

There were also unsuccessful moves to bring Sheffield’s holidays into line with those in Rotherham and Derbyshire.

Dr Sharp said: “When we consulted with headteachers a year ago, overall they were not in favour, but we would welcome the opportunity to look at this issue again.”

From next year, schools in Nottingham will break up at the end of July, with pupils back in class before the end of August.

Schools instead will gain extra time off in May and October.

Mr Gove is also hoping more academies and free schools will take unilateral action to change their term structures, which their increased independence would allow.

However, that would cause problems for parents with children at different schools operating different school calendars.

A survey found about a third had already brought in changes, or were considering taking action.

Toby Mallinson, joint secretary for Sheffield NUT, said the union was not against change, but detailed discussions would be needed.

“One obvious issue would be the implications if some authorities changed and some didn’t,” he said. “Families can have children at different schools so there would clearly be childcare issues.

“The devil is in the detail with such reforms - when a close look is taken problems may emerge which may be difficult if not insurmountable to overcome.”

A four week summer break would be one of the shortest anywhere in Europe - but ministers argue it could be popular with working parents who struggle to provide childcare for a full six weeks.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said it was a positive move that some schools were planning changes.

“The fact is we have inherited a school year designed for children in the 1900s, not the 21st century, so it is right that heads are seizing the initiative,” she added.

Factbox:

■ School holidays are determined by individual local authorities and consist of three terms interspersed by half-term weeks in October, February and May.

In May, primary schools tend to take two weeks off, while secondaries only have one due to the exam timetables.

The only change in recent years has been to the timing of the Easter break - it always takes place now towards the beginning of April. Easter itself was late this year, so coincided with the very end of the holiday.

vox pop:

“Yes, please shorten the holidays - the kids get so bored and there’s nothing much to do round here as we don’t have a park. It’s hard to keep them busy and everything seems to cost money. It would do them more good if they were learning instead.”

Charlie Feather, aged 22, full-time mum of Cody and Mason, from Wybourn.

“A four week summer holiday would be great. I can understand that kids go backwards during the summer - they often want to go back earlier anyway and it would do them good to learn more. And the long holidays are so expensive - there’s only so many times you can take them to Jungle Mania and it costs so much. Otherwise they are just stuck in the house.”

Chantelle Haddock, aged 28, full-time mum of Sienna and Darcie, from Wybourn.

“A four week summer holiday would certainly make my life a lot easier. Six weeks is too long and it’s hard to entertain children for such a long period. It doesn’t help that there’s not much to do around here either and many people just don’t have the money for outings.”

Toni Howard, 25, full-time mum of Siobhan and Keane, from Wybourn.

“I’d be against losing the six-week break - it’s one of the only times we are able to spend a lot of time together as a family, to go on holiday and relax. I know it can be a problem for some families, keeping children fed and occupied, but personally it’s a time of year I look forward to. Kids need to relax.”

Isheena Whiteley, aged 29, full-time mum of Kaiden, Shardell and Josiah, from Wybourn.