The staggered Easter holidays are over in South Yorkshire’s schools, allowing focus to return to the 2019 exam season that is almost upon us.
It’s perhaps a good time to reflect upon whether the decision taken by Sheffield Council to fix the city’s Easter holidays has been a good one.
I’ve been talking to teachers and parents at the secondary school where I teach and found opinion is still divided over the controversial move that has now been in place for two years.
Some in the profession have welcomed the move, drawing attention to the sometimes impossibly long terms that could stretch from Christmas until deep into April with only a week’s respite in February.
As well as having the two weeks off, the schools in the city have benefited from a couple of four-day weeks as they are now obliged to close for Good Friday and Easter Monday as well.
Across the M1 in Rotherham, they have had the more traditional Easter holiday and taken the two weeks that has the bank holiday weekend in the middle. There’s still plenty of support for this method in Sheffield and a lot of reasons why it may well be the best approach.
Sheffield and Rotherham schools contain so many links that the change in the holiday system has resulted in inconvenience for many families. There are many Rotherham teachers living in Sheffield, and visa versa, meaning that those with families have been well and truly caught out.
Even more ludicrous is the situation some families find themselves in when they have one child in a Rotherham secondary school and a sibling in a Sheffield primary that feeds into it.
In those families, Easter holidays span over a month and can cause a nightmare when planning holidays or arranging childcare.
The main aim of schools at this time of year is to make sure the Year 11 students are fully prepared for their exams, even more important now that the whole GCSE result is dependent on the end-of- year tests.
Whether it’s final revisions classes or after-school preparation, the time put in by teachers as we move towards exam time can be crucial. Given that so much of the government’s rhetoric is about these final results, we should be trying to get children in school for every possible second.
How strange it is in Sheffield, then, that we’ve moved to a system that has given young people two days out of school in the form of Bank Holidays that were usually swallowed up by the holiday fortnight.
Imagine if your timetable had a single lesson of French on a Friday and double French on a Monday – that means the subject will lose three crucial lessons in the run up to the exam, which increases to five lesson if you account for the May Bank Holiday on Monday.
The final lessons of the year are so important, it just seems crazy to me that we’re losing the opportunity to have children in school so they can do more preparation work for their exams.
Even more pointless is the fact that those two days, Good Friday and Easter Monday, have to be caught up to make sure that school remains open for the statutory amount of days over the year.
So what many Sheffield schools are doing is opening their doors for the first two days of what would be the summer’s six-week holidays.
Essentially, they’re exchanging what would be two priceless days of lessons for two days of pointless planning in a two-day week when most of the country has packed their suitcase and headed for the beach.
We may never have the accurate figures to show how many kids will be taken out of school on those two days in the summer because their family holidays have been pre-booked, or data to show how many extra kids were taken out at Easter.
Similarly, it’s hard to judge how much of an impact is caused by losing two days in the run up to exams.
But my gut feeling tells me it’s time for the council to look at this move again, and ensure the South Yorkshire region has a collective approach.