Heads question length of school terms

The NAHT will investigate the benefits of scrapping the six-week summer break and spreading holidays more evenly throughout the year.

At the NAHT’s annual conference its leader Russell Hobby questioned whether the current 13-week term structure is healthy for staff, the BBC reports.

The headteachers debated a proposal to scrap the six-week summer holiday in favour of shorter, but more frequent, holidays. Education Secretary Michael Gove has called for reform of the current system, which described as a relic of the 19th century, when children were needed to help out with the harvest.

School leaders fear that pupils’ education suffers as a result of the long break, with teachers having to spend weeks at the start of the new academic year getting pupils over the summer ‘learning loss’, It has also been blamed for forcing working parents to struggle to arrange childcare, and inflated costs of taking a family holiday during peak periods.

Mr. Hobby also flagged up the damaging effects of 13-week terms on teachers’ health: “It seems like at the end of term everybody is ready to drop. Not reducing the amount of holiday but distributing it more evenly throughout the year might be one solution to that,” he said. He suggested that schools in the same district should co-ordinate holidays: “You could have a staggering of holidays around the country,” he said. “So if different parts of the country within local authority boundaries or regional boundaries had slightly different holiday times I think that would ease the pressure on prices of holidays.”

The proposal, which is likely to be resisted by teachers and some heads, will now be the subject of a study into its benefits and the impact on children’s learning.

Do you feel ‘ready to drop’ at the end of term and if so would you welcome shorter but more regular holidays?

31 thoughts on “Heads question length of school terms

  1. So idiotic it’s unbelievable. That no other country on earth appears to sign up to that model of education, that private schools in this country have 8 weeks off, that American and European schools have upto 3 months off etc etc

    More evidence that people with little experience of teaching and the real needs of pupils, are increasingly ending up in charge.

  2. Although more evenly distributed holidays sounds good I can foresee at least 2 problems:
    1. An average holiday of 4 weeks for the summer could take 2 weeks off exam courses for years 11 and 13, unless the return from the summer holiday was 2 weeks earlier.
    2. Longer hours teaching during hotter weather is not so conducive to learning.
    … on the other hand …a longer Christmas break might mean less teaching hours lost to bad weather – but with winter being so unpredictable this seems doubtful.

  3. 6 weeks gives me a chance to wind down, do things around the house, prep for the next year and still have time to get away for a decent holiday. Please don’t take that away from me.

  4. Problem with holidays is that at the end of each term I need a week to tidy up and prepare for the next term. The long summer holidays mean that I get a week to tidy up on the past year and a week to prepare for the oncoming year (done on school premises by the way). This means the Summer holiday equates to 20 days off to pay my family some attention and power down. More and shorter holidays will mean more tidy up time and with it less real down time. So….more work to set me up for more stress related angina attacks.

  5. Here in Italy the summer holidays go from the beginning of June to mid-September, and kids get to the end of the school year exhausted by so little break, and after three months of holiday are generally fed up with holiday!

  6. I do think that longer Christmas and Easter holidays would be better. It would also save heating bills for schools. Perhaps a 3 week Christmas break and a 3 week Easter break and then a 4 week holiday in the Summer. How this would work with the public exams in the Summer though I am not quite sure. They would have to be later and then you have the problem of getting them marked in time for university entrance.

  7. It is nice to have six weeks off, but it does take longer to get back into school life, after having a long break.

  8. I don’t feel ‘ready to drop’ at the end if a school term but obviously it is a tiring job however, at the beginning of the next term I feel energised and ready to start again. Which is probably the same as the children. With regards to changing the summer holidays I think it would take a lot if toing and froing and changes before it had any semblance if order, is it really worth the hassle?

  9. The limit for me would be one less week at summer and tack that on to Christmas. Christmas never feels long enough. I don’t want more distributed holidays – that’s part of the reason I became a teacher. I accept that we have to work pretty flat-out for six weeks (give or take a week), but then we get our half-terms/holidays to recover. That’s what we signed up for. We all took it on and I don’t hear anybody complaining in that last week. I travel for a few weeks over the summer too, so if I lose that extended break, I lose a big benefit of my job. In my past job in the finance sector, having only a week here and there meant I could never have any meaningful experiences. I’ve spent time volunteering in Benin, Tanzania, Bangladesh and Malaysia. None of that would have been possible with an ordinary holiday schedule. Finally, and let’s be honest here, if Gove is on board with this, then they’ll almost certainly find some way to subtly screw us over.

  10. State schools have shorter summer breaks than private schools. Do private schools have a problem getting students back into the ‘learning groove’? Learning is surely something which happens to us all, every day, and the holidays are a fantastic way of extending learning for all students. Academic learning needs to be in partnership with life-learning, physical education and the mind’s ability to consolidate learning. I understand many of the arguments in favour of redistributing the holidays but can’t help wondering how much of that holiday time will be used by teachers as extra marking and preparation time. Our Easter holiday and the precious spring bank holidays saw members of staff working each week at school, with year 11s. We might easily end up with less real off-duty holdiday than we have now.

  11. It might be time to reconsider a 4-term year as is featured elsewhere in the world. In NZ I worked terms of around 10 weeks with 2 weeks between some and 6 weeks for summer hols. This doesn’t remove the exploitation and price increases by holiday companies, but stress for teachers is far less and there are three other opportunities in a year when families might holiday for more than a week. I don’t think I experienced mass ‘summer ‘learning loss’ at all.

  12. I dread the idea of having only 6 weeks off during summer if I worked in UK schools.. In Ireland, its normal to have 3 months off for summer as they do in USA and with the intense heat London gets it wont surprise me if tempers are flaring up as well as endless behaviour problems associated with that in itself.. It’s as if the UK students are in school all year round….the extensive break is needed to fully recharge the batteries really.. the thought of having my already troubled class group until late July is a scary one at that and though they follow the Primary calendar which only allows for 2 months off for the summer despite being a secondary school the majority just dont return when all the other regular secondary schools are off by June 1st…9 months of school is just right for students; worked for me….

  13. I do find that not just myself but many of my colleagues would agree that we would prefer 2 weeks at the October half term and 2 weeks at spring bank, leaving 4 weeks in summer.This would be far healthier for both pupils and staff.

  14. ‘It would also save heating bills for schools.’

    – and increase the domestic bills for teachers…………………………

  15. Why would the exams have to be later? If schools went back from the summer break two weeks earlier – i.e. around the time of the results, then those two weeks were added to Christmas and Easter, there would be exactly the same time to prepare the students for their exams.

  16. All rubbish. Prefer it as it is. Keep it as it is. Skeleton ancillary staff and teachers still go into schools during these holiday periods to do work, preparation etc. anyway so no less saving on energy. Once this fantastic system is changed, there will be no going back and will be regretted. I want my long summer break for the children and myself to continue. All this about ‘learning loss’. Will there be any more of this ‘learning loss’ with 2 weeks less with extended holidays at the other times? I suspect not. Summer is the best time for kids to enjoy the best seasonal weather and to play outside. These proposals jeopardise this.

  17. Is ‘learning loss’ any greater at 6 weeks than 4 weeks? I think we should keep the long summer break. I loved having 6 weeks off as a child and as a teacher its the only break where I can really recharge my batteries. Let’s confuse the holiday companies by allowing children to have 10 days off anytime throughout the year except at important times (to be decide by the HT). Will it really make a difference to children’s education? A holiday is an education in itself. Isn’t one significantly long break better than three ‘longish’ breaks in terms of learning loss?

  18. I think it would make much more sense to have terms of more equal length, with regular breaks. (Wasn’t that supposed to be behind the original idea of the 6 term year???)The terms leading up to Christmas and the Summer break (terms 2 and 6)are far too long and teachers are completely exhausted by the end of them, as are the children. A shorter Summer break would aid continuity in children’s learning and indeed, reduce ‘loss of learning’ which is so evident on their return to school in September. It might -though probably won’t-stop families getting ripped off by travel companies, if staggered holiday times were introduced across counties.( I think prices will just be inflated all the time.) However,this would need careful coordination to avoid parents with children at different schools having to pay for more childcare than before, due to different holiday times.

  19. I’d support proposals that lengthened “half term” holidays because one week is not enough time for me to recover and prepare for the next term. Also, the holidays need to be disengaged from religious festivals to enable schools to spread terms more evenly.

  20. As a teacher, I welcome the proposed plans. Longer more frequent holidays will benefit staff and students.. It’s win-win

  21. I think it would make much more sense to have terms of more equal length, with regular breaks. The terms leading up to Christmas and the Summer break (terms 2 and 6)are far too long and teachers are completely exhausted by the end of them, as are the children. A shorter Summer break would aid continuity in children’s learning and indeed, reduce ‘loss of learning’ which is so evident on their return to school in September. It might -though probably won’t-stop families getting ripped off by travel companies, if staggered holiday times were introduced across counties. However,this would need careful coordination to avoid parents with children at different schools having to pay for more childcare than before, due to different holiday times.

  22. In the USA they have a summer break of 10-11 weeks…so people should stop moaning about how ‘long’ they are here in the UK. It’s 9 weeks in France and 11-12 in Spain. Sweden 9 weeks, Germany 6-7, 12-13 in Italy, Japan about 6, 8-10 weeks for Canada, Russia – 10 weeks. On the face of it, we in the UK are having a lot less than most other places.
    As Anna said, 6 weeks is necessary to recharge. And remember – many teachers still go into school in the first couple of weeks to move classroom, set it all up, catch up on paperwork etc so it’s not necessarily 6 weeks ‘off’ for some of us.

  23. Must we really have this ancient story rolled out every Summer? It is getting boring – and administratively it’s the idea is at best moronic. Time to grow up – and cover more key issues.

  24. Well, most independent schools have 3 or even 4 weeks at Christmas and Easter and then 8 or 9 weeks in the Summer. They do this by having longer school days and Saturday morning school. Having worked in the independent sector I know how exhausting and intense the terms are. I would really like schools to have the 3 weeks at Christmas and Easter and still 6 weeks in the Summer, I do think the students and teachers need the rest but as we are restricted to a certain number of weeks and Saturday school is not really an option for non-boarding schools, having shorter terms would ensure that teachers do not become so exhausted during the year. The ‘learning loss’ theory is of course nonsense, students soon catch up. As Cliqmo says in most other countries the Summer break is much longer. My concern is for the teachers as I know how tired we are after the long Winter term. And I think we also forget how tired the students get. They are learning new content every lesson of every day. I am reminded of this when I go on a course and come away exhausted after only one day of relatively ‘new’ stuff!

  25. Come to North Cyprus we have even longer holidays here 100 days.
    Clearly its too hot for both teaching and learning but learning loss is huge.

  26. Well I for one don’t want 3 weeks at Christmas 2 weeks is too long as it is. Why would anyone want a longer holiday when the weather is awful and the nights are dark. Leave the summer as it is or make it longer even. Or add a week to whit from Christmas!!

  27. Lynn, you hit the nail on the head. And yes, generally the summer holiday in the US is longer than in the UK, but there are no half term breaks, and the Christmas and spring holidays are only about a week long, so the actual days in school are about the same. In New York State there are a mandated 180 days, with a few more days built into the schedule for snow days.

  28. This old chestnut. This holidays issue was debated when I first started teaching in the 1990s. The reason it has never been implemented is that it would not work. Look at other countries, as mentioned above. Children benefit from a break when the weather is at it’s best, not in the darker winter months.I really think this issue should be dropped. Why, once again should it be an issue discussed for state schools when holidays are much longer in the independent sector? Children need to enjoy the outdoors in the summer. I loved the summer as a kid.

  29. Well Gove’s statment proves he failed his history tests ………………. guess we are stuck with the fool as long as this inept coalition are in office. OK let’s trade the holidays for a ‘work to rule’ on a national average 25 days/ yr = absolutely NO work outside of a 38hr week …………….. over to you Gove ….. now let’s see you provide an education system that works!

  30. This whole discussion saddens me because it essentially reduces the lives of working class kids as preparation for a life that is exclusively about work. It also demonstrates the utter shallowness of the Government’s thoughts on educational policy – expensive holidays and child care problems. Some of my fondest memories came from my summer holidays. The long summer holidays offered me the opportunity to discover myself, free from the oversight of my parents. During the summer holidays I learned about friendship and loyalty, I developed a sense of adventure and the wonders of doing new things. It was during the long summer holidays that learned to love nature and the beauties of the British country side and from that, I developed a sense of place and belonging broader and deeper than the family home. The summer holidays gave me the memories that have sustained me when times were difficult. Central to these things are the friends I had in the streets where I lived rather than my parents. If you take that away from me then I am reduced.

  31. It’s a big issue with many sides to it. Luke and Linda above have good points. I grew up in the USA, where we had around a 2 1/2 month break in summer, 2 weeks at Christmas, and never more than a week the rest of the year. (But at my university, it was nearly 4 months for summer and a month in winter, but with the option to do summer school courses if you wanted to and complete your degree in less time).

    But then I taught in Sri Lanka, where the holidays are more evenly distributed throughout the year. There was a one-month holiday in April (the hottest time of the year and the traditional New Year time as well as Easter for Christians), August (rainy season and the time of processions and festivals), and December (the end of the school year and Christmas time). A-level exams took place in August and O-level exams in April, so the teachers had to work extra time helping with the exams and marking and got much fewer holidays than the students

    I would say that the longer summer holiday works well for older students, teachers, and parents, because they can profitably use the time for summer jobs, summer camps, internships, and study abroad programmes. Almost everyone I knew at my high school (a small school in rural Georgia) made good use of the summer break. I actually learnt more at many of my summer experiences, like Student Council Camp and Debate Camp and my full-time summer job editing magazines at the Foxfire Program at my school, than during the school year! And, during university, I learnt more from internships during the summer and special summer school courses than during the school year! The extended holiday makes in-depth courses and experiences possible that wouldn’t be possible if the holidays were spread out evenly throughout the year. The long summer break in the USA is also one reason that American students find it easier to get practical work experience prior to graduation than U.K. and Sri Lankan students.

    For working parents, also, I think the long summer break is actually easier, because they only have to make additional child care or activity arrangements at one long stretch during the year, not three or four different long term breaks.

    For younger children who aren’t old enough to get a summer job or participate in many camps and other activities – say, younger than Grade 7 – however, the spread-out model of holidays might work better. Because younger children have a shorter attention span, tire more easily, and need frequent breaks in learning to help them absorb the information.

    So I would suggest three or four one-month term breaks throughout the year, as in Sri Lanka, for children under Grade 7 and their teachers, and a longer summer break (yes, summer is better than winter, because students need outdoor activities!) for children Grade 7 and older and their teachers. However, schools should run some kind of fun optional free programme during the summer months – different from the school curriculum, with more arts, sports, gardening, cooking, practical and group activities – for the benefit of those working parents and students who find it difficult and expensive to make other arrangements during that time. For high school students, summer school courses should be available for everyone – they shouldn’t be a stigma just for students who have failed courses in the school year, as they were at my high school in the USA! They could include more elective and fun courses and longer class periods, and could also be an opportunity for weak students to get extra help in the subjects they need, or advanced students to do the additional prep they need to get into a good university. All teaching staff need not participate, but the ones who wanted could choose to, with temporary staff as well.

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