Monday, 3 February 2014

EEPD: School Term Dates

The EEPD committee received a briefing on the Government's so-called Deregulation Bill School , which includes the proposal for a school-by-school free for all on term dates. Michael Gove has spoken about longer terms and longer school days- the actual evidence says something quite different:

The NUT is concerned about any changes to school term dates and lengthening of the  school day.
The Union supports improved childcare provision and would welcome better use of school buildings after school and in the holidays to offer clubs and activities, but it is important not to confuse education and childcare.

It is recognised that many parents find the six week summer break difficult in terms of childcare. Boredom can develop and, in some cases, anti-social behaviour among older children can be a problem. This situation is, however, more of a comment on the lack of out-of-school provision for young people than an argument in favour of truncating the school summer holiday. This view is, in any case, far from universal. It is certainly the case that many families, particularly those with families overseas, use the long summer break to visit relatives, so any change will have an impact on their ability to do this. Schools might find that shorter summer holidays would mean that they
receive additional requests for pupils to be taken out of school during term time, with serious long-term implications for the education of those pupils. 

The men and women working in teaching are often parents too. Many pursue a career  in teaching partly so that they can dedicate time to their children during the school holidays. This is a key benefit which allows these parents to feel less uncomfortable about their inability to dedicate sufficient time to parenting during the term time.

Retaining teachers who are parents will become much harder if the school day is  lengthened or the school holiday is shortened.  It may be true that private schools tend to have longer days but some of this time is  spent on extra~curricular or sporting activities and, in any case, this time is compensated for by longer holidays.

Changing the length of the summer break is not a new idea. Indeed, proposals of this kind have surfaced periodically for the last thirty years, and each time they have been resisted for a number of key reasons.  Proponents of a shorter summer break argue that if pupils are away from school for
too long they forget much of what they have learned. This so-called 'learning loss', it is claimed, particularly affects socially disadvantaged and less able pupils.  If the evidence concerning summer learning loss could be firmly substantiated, particularly the suggestion that already disadvantaged children are particularly  affected, then this would need to be addressed. There are, however, other, preferable options to address such a need - for example, strategies which involve local youth services and separate contracts for staff, voluntarily entered into.

The research on summer learning loss relates chiefly to the USA, where summer holidays are twice as long as those in the UK. Nevertheless, the USA still ranks in a similar position to the UK in terms of reading skills according to the most recent PISA (2009) tables, despite having long summer holidays.  It must be borne in mind that the education systems of many other countries, which perform better than the UK in international PISA tables, enjoy summer holidays considerably longer than those in the UK. Children in the following countries have  longer summer holidays than in the UK, and all out-perform the UK in terms of their  PISA ranking:

Finland: 10 weeks
Hong Kong: (China) 10 weeks
Canada: 9 weeks
Belgium: 8 weeks
Norway: 8 weeks
Poland: 10 weeks
Iceland: 11 weeks
United States: 12 weeks
Sweden: 10 weeks
Ireland: 8 weeks
France: 8 weeks

A shorter summer break, compressed into just a few weeks would also cause problems with millions of families scrambling to book holidays within a shorter period,  leading to even higher prices and many more taking their children out of school during term time because of peak demand and high prices.

The Secretary of State for Education has recently spoken approvingly of the longer school day and shorter school holidays in the Far East, but his comments are misleading.

According to figures published by the OECD last year, the average for OECD countries for total hours of instruction between the ages of 7 and 14 was 6,862 hours. Pupils in England spend around 7,258 hours in the classroom between the ages of 7 and 14 - above the OECD average. In Finland, one of the top performing countries in PISA tests in 2009, pupils spend around 5,637 hours at school during that time, in Korea the figure is 5,910 hours and in Japan, around 6,501 hours.

Rather than tinkering with the school day and year, the NUT believes that the best way to help schools meet pupil needs is by valuing and trusting teachers and giving them the time they need to do their job properly.

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