Education: Putting Easter school breaks out of synch is no holiday for any of pupils

Pirates Day at Sheffield Dragons Martial Arts as part of their half term events'Picture by Dean Atkins
Pirates Day at Sheffield Dragons Martial Arts as part of their half term events'Picture by Dean Atkins

Teachers in South Yorkshire schools are phenomenally lucky when it comes to holidays, obviously getting plenty of time to travel and be with their families.

Although the lure of the lengthy summer holiday is great and the chance to unwind at Christmas is so relaxing, for me the best school holidays are at half term. It’s such a fantastic treat to arrive at a one-week break in the middle of a long, hard and demanding stretch. The week-long holidays in February and October are extra special because they provide teachers and kids with some respite from a cold, dark and challenging term of lessons that can run for up to 15 weeks. There’s no better feeling for me at the beginning of a wintry February than knowing I’m about to take off to a cottage in the middle of nowhere and recharge my batteries with my family. But things are different in South Yorkshire this year. February 2018 is the first holiday I can remember which does not see Sheffield schools aligned with the rest of the county. A couple of years ago, a consultation was held to see if Sheffield stakeholders wanted to fix the Easter holidays each year. Teachers, parents and governors were all asked for their opinions and the final decision was to make the change. It was a decision that this week will cause disruption in hundreds of Sheffield families as the city starts the February half term one week before their neighbours across the boundary. It will hit hardest in places like Brinsworth. Here, the Rotherham secondary school sits close to the border and actually has a significant number of pupils feeding in from Sheffield primaries. So if you’re in a family with one child at secondary school and one in primary school, you’re going to have a problem both this week and next. Apart from not being able to spend the week together as a family, you’ve to arrange childcare for a fortnight instead of one week. Working families will find this to be a significant challenge, and possibly a costly one. But they will have to stomach it at Easter as well because Sheffield has one week’s different with Rotherham then too. Next year, the whole two weeks of Easter is different. Half terms, of course, differ up and down the country. Sheffield is bound to be at odds with other local authorities somewhere. It used to be that the city never aligned its Easter holidays with schools in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. That, of course, will have caused issues with some families close to the border with Chesterfield. But the local authority has a responsibility to make things as smooth as possible for its families, and should match its holidays with the neighbouring schools it has the most links with. The Sheffield urban area runs seamlessly into Rotherham. It’s like one continuous metropolitan zone. School catchments cross the border and children commute from one place to the other every school day. I’ve worked in three Rotherham schools during my career and the number of teachers in the town travelling from Sheffield is startling. Similarly, my children attend school in Sheffield and several teachers working there make the trip into Sheffield from Rotherham. There are very strong educational links between Sheffield and Rotherham, but we now have a situation where hundreds of people are being inconvenienced. Rather than looking solely after its own interests, this decision made by Sheffield Council about holidays should have been taken jointly with Rotherham because the two places are so interconnected when it comes to teachers and schools. I have spent this week pottering about at home while my children head off to school, and next week I’ll have to put on friends and family members as I beg for childcare. And, like many other teachers I know, a weekly review of the teaching jobs websites is now on my to-do list because I would like to be off at the same time as my children. This week and next I know full well that there will be children taken out of school so families split between Sheffield and Rotherham can go on holiday together. We are never going to please everybody all the time, but putting the holidays out of sync between Sheffield and Rotherham just seems to be constructing barriers for no reason. And to what end? Was a fluctuating Easter such a big problem for the city’s teaching staff?

atchments cross the border and children commute from one place to the other every school day.