Here's why it's time to consider changing our school's holiday dates

The joke going around Sheffield schools at the moment is about the heatwave coming to an end just as our children pack up their belongings for the summer holiday.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 19 July, 2018, 06:50

We’ve enjoyed the longest and hottest period of weather for over 100 years throughout May, June and July, as students struggle on with their school uniforms and homework.

With hosepipe bans threatened in parts of England, some sceptical teachers believe it will start raining cats and dogs around 3pm on Friday when the school bell rings to signal a six-week break.

It’s a pattern we’ve seen many times before over recent years, but one that seems to be exaggerated this year as our gardens turn brown and the grass doesn’t need cutting.

The English summer tends to peak in June and early July, leaving some nice weather in August but also plenty of rain. If you book a break in this country during the summer holiday, you are often chancing it regarding the weather.

There’s an academic argument for leaving the summer break exactly where it is; a huge amount of very important administration needs completing to keep the educational wheels turning.

Some exams are still being marked, then the numbers need crunching to convert the scores to grades.

The exam results need collating and sending back to schools, then interviews need holding for sixth form and college admissions, ready for September. There’s also the question of universities, who need to process exam results, make offers and allow students time to prepare for their big move in September.

Time is definitely needed over the summer and there would be a huge resistance from institutions to moving the break a few weeks earlier so we could enjoy the seasonal trend of nicer weather.

Incredibly, though, this is something that manages to happen in Scotland.

Schools there finish their learning at the end of June, enjoying all of July and half of August – hopefully in the sunshine - before returning to the classroom.

And amazingly, Scotland manages to do all of the necessary admin during this earlier period; exams are marked, admissions are processed, and students head off to university at the same time.

So, should we be more like Scotland? Should we be in the middle of our school holiday right now, sitting on a beach in Devon enjoying a cream tea or surfing in Cornwall after enjoying a pasty?

Moving something as institutionally engrained as the school summer holiday is never going to gather much pace when the sunshine is used as a reason, but there are also benefits to teaching and learning associated with the argument.

After the exam season is over, there is a lot of ‘dead time’ in schools. Primaries are pretty good at this because they have the freedom to rearrange the week’s timetable and can spend large amounts of time preparing for a school production or completing art projects – things that have been neglected earlier in the year.

But secondary schools tend to coast towards the summer. They may not gravitate towards watching videos as much as they used to but there is certainly less rigour as there is when students return in September.

There is also a lot of academic evidence for suggesting that the summer holidays are way too long. Many students return to school in September having forgotten key ideas they have been taught and there is a certain amount of catch-up time needed.

Some local authorities have already taken the controversial decision to cut the six-week holiday into a five-week holiday and add the extra week onto the October break, reducing the gap in learning and giving a much-needed longer breather in what is the trickiest term.

Adapting the summer holidays to meet the needs of current students is something that should be done, considering the way it could have a positive impact on learning and, yes, trying to tap in on what are generally the best weather weeks of the summer.