A free-for-all on school term dates?

schoolsignMichael Gove has had another ‘good idea’, produced without any reference to the professionals who will have to implement it, nor to the general public who will have to work around it. This time he is keen to allow all schools to set their own term dates, in line with the freedom already granted to academies and free schools.

It sounds like a superficial change, but those of us who have examined the issue in depth know that the implications could be far greater than you might imagine.

Some eight years ago I attended a series of meetings of councillors who, like me, held education portfolios in London boroughs.  Our aim was to co-ordinate school term dates across the whole of London, and, wherever possible, with the surrounding counties, and we did achieve that.  At the same time we looked at patterns of terms, considering some quite radical alternatives, such as six or seven equal length terms, with a shorter break in the summer.

We finally agreed that we would stabilise the spring holiday so it was not dependent on the moving date of Easter. Two weeks are allocated to the spring holiday at approximately the same time each year, and if Easter fell outside that period then an extra long weekend would be taken.  Our proposals were widely accepted and became the standard practice across London.

So why were we so keen to unify holiday dates across the region? Well, any parent with children in two or even three different schools will tell you how complicated life becomes if their holiday dates vary from each other by even a few days. Teachers are parents, too, and they have to add in the extra factor of their own work commitments.

Some schools which have already established unconventional patterns of school attendance argue that the new arrangements provide a better rhythm to learning, and they may well be right about that. But if neighbouring schools follow different patterns then the window for a family holiday is greatly reduced. Indeed, a free-for-all on term dates could have the unintended consequence of parents taking children out of school during term time in order to have a family holiday at all.

If Gove’s proposal does go through, then it will not be long before schools will be lobbied by parents to co-ordinate term dates with neighbouring schools. This may be quite simple to achieve in a small country town with one secondary school and a handful of feeder primaries.

However in cities such as London, where schools are relatively close to each other and families have many options, this would be a complex operation.  Take the ward where I live – children from this small area attend at least seven different secondary schools and six primary schools (not including any independent schools), across borough and regional boundaries.  That was why, when I was actively involved as a cabinet member, we found that dates had to be co-ordinated at a regional level, not simply at borough level. That is going to be impossible in the future, and good practice that supports families will have been sacrificed for the ideology of autonomy.

 

 

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames where she is still very active with the local party.

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

30 Comments

  • “schools will be lobbied by parents to co-ordinate term dates with neighbouring schools”
    So that will happen. Why is that a bad thing?

  • It’s not just that the window for holidays is reduced, it also increases the amount of child-care provision required for parents with children in more than one school and with different holidays. It’s a barking mad idea. Only Gove could think it’s good.

  • James Hardy 2nd Jul '13 - 4:05pm

    @David

    It is a bad thing, because a huge amount of effort will be undertaken across the country attempting to achieve precisely what is already the status quo – the same term times in a given area. In Greater London, there 33 Local Education Authorities which currently need to reach agreement to achieve this (and according to Mary, this was achieved). There are 3,037 schools which should reach agreement after this change – I don’t see that as being likely, do you?

  • Peter Watson 2nd Jul '13 - 4:29pm

    “If Gove’s proposal does go through”
    How can Gove’s latest daft idea be blocked though, and does Laws support this one?

  • I’m always amazed when the Lib Dems put “giving teachers and heads greater freedom” but then shirk on every single issue. No wonder people won’t elect us when we treat ordinary people as idiots and act even more paternalistic than the other parties.

    Why would any school change the term dates if it led to kids being withdrawn from their schools? We’re obsessed with the notion by our egotistical, overbearing councillors that people need to be arranged.

  • I’m sorry, but I don’t really see the issue here. There will still be a regional ‘suggested’ set of dates which you would expect most schools to adhere to, and if there are reasons why they don’t work for that particular school, or the school wants to have the freedom to change them then under these proposals they have them.

    You appear to be claiming that headteachers aren’t competent enough to choose a sensible set of dates given those in the region and the specific circumstances of the school / parents (which the headteacher will likely know best), are not responsive to parental suggestion, and are generally going to pick the most random set of dates possible simply to create chaos for the parents? In which case why they hell are they a headteacher?

    Surely what this is intended to do is to give a school freedom, so that a school (for example) which has a majority muslim attendance might give consideration to ramadan when selecting term dates. I would ask the question – are there currently massive issues which we have not heard about caused by acadamies and free schools already having this freedom?

  • Peter Davies 2nd Jul '13 - 6:27pm

    Academies already have this freedom. There are few schools that don’t have siblings at an academy. The world has not ended.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 2nd Jul '13 - 7:01pm

    There was an interesting discussion about this on PM earlier with Anthony Seldon and a head from an inner city academy in Leeds (whose name I didn’t catch). Seldon was ostensibly there to oppose the change and to defend long summer holidays and the other head was there because her school as a four-week summer holiday and much more evenly sized terms.

    But what I took from the discussion was that different schools have different needs when it comes to holidays. It suits Wellington College to have long, lazy summer holidays because the parents are wealthy enough to make sure their children have interesting, enriching things to do for 6 weeks. But in inner city Leeds the parents can’t afford to take the time off work, never mind go on interesting holidays, so the children are sat there bored for 6 weeks, doing nothing that expands their horizons.

    So what they do is have a shorter holiday as well as running activities. And it seems to me if we are serious about tackling the gulf between the achievements of children from the poorest backgrounds and those from the wealthiest it is exactly this sort of thing that can do so.

    So I started off the day ambivalent about this, and by the end I was generally in favour!

  • David Allen 2nd Jul '13 - 7:04pm

    “I’m always amazed when the Lib Dems put “giving teachers and heads greater freedom” but then shirk….”

    It isn’t a given that schools should be free to do what they like. They are paid service providers. So are roadsweepers. You wouldn’t pay a roadsweeper to have the freedom to decide how much sweeping (if any) really needed to be done. You shouldn’t presume that, just because school staff are from a different social class, they should always be treated differently.

  • Mary – I have some sympathy with teachers, but that is eroding every time I hear teachers or their partners complaining that they work ‘many hours mre than most’. How do you, or they know that? Certainly no-one I know enjoys the many weeks of holidaytime that teachers have.

  • Stuart Mitchell 2nd Jul '13 - 7:52pm

    Lennon:
    “You appear to be claiming that headteachers aren’t competent enough to choose a sensible set of dates given those in the region and the specific circumstances of the school / parents (which the headteacher will likely know best), are not responsive to parental suggestion, and are generally going to pick the most random set of dates possible simply to create chaos for the parents?”

    Believe it or not, some headteachers really would do that. The school my kids went to used to have different headteachers for infants and juniors. As a voluntary aided RC school, the heads had some freedom in setting term dates. At one time, the school operated with the same calendar, with the heads taking turns deciding the dates each year. Then there was a petty falling out between the two heads, after which they each started setting their own term dates. Often these dates would be a whole week apart – much to the annoyance of parents who had kids in both infants and juniors. This farcical situation was only resolved when one head retired and the infants and juniors were merged.

    Incidentally, such foolishness aside, the two heads managed to run an Ofsted Grade 1 school, despite their refusal to cooperate with each other.

    So you shouldn’t assume that all heads are sensible and reasonable and always have the best interests of parents at heart, any more than one should assume that heads are hell bent on being awkward.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 2nd Jul '13 - 7:56pm

    @johnmc I know lots of teachers. All of them:

    a) work through their holidays
    b) work hugely long hours. In fact, many I know job share but are often marking or doing lesson prep on their days off.
    c) send their own time and money buying resources to make their lessons more interesting.

    Teachers unions re not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination but ordinary teachers are superb in my experience.

  • David – On the contrary, I think roadsweepers should have good input into how much / little is done – how efficiently, likely priorities etc. They, after all are closest to the job and the results, and what is practical. BUT, for all, the views of the people expressed in an understandable and democratic way should drive the final decisions. Most important of all, there should be “education” (of both sides “people” and “professionals”) to start bringing views together, and of course, the starting point should NOT, repeat NOT, lie with the accountants.

  • Im sure when Gove explains to us parents how we should all nip out and fix ourselves up with a nanny and a good boarding school, that we will all appreciate his latest brainwave for the stroke of genius it is.

  • David Allen 2nd Jul '13 - 11:17pm

    Tim 13, I don’t think we really much disagree. Sure, roadsweepers and teachers should both have good input into determining what and how much should be done, including scope to protest an excessive workload. What neither should have is the freedom to control what is done, and, for example, the option to do very little and get away with it. I don’t think an employer would let a roadsweeper have that level of freedom, and I don’t think teachers should have it either.

    The idea that schools should have great freedom doesn’t always do them any favours, anyway. A neat trick for government to play is to impose a lot of theoretical responsibilities on schools, give them too little resourcing to cope with all the work,and then say that the schools are free to organise themselves however they choose in order to meet all the responsibilities. With all that freedom, they shouldn’t fail: if they do fail, it is their fault. Not government’s, of course!

  • David Allen – Yes, I agree with what you have written here. An idea has occurred to me, regarding the tactics you describe in your second paragraph. We on here and elsewhere in debates, refer to “straw men” an awful lot, perhaps we should describe these policies as “straw man” policies? Governments in this country have used this method at least since Thatcher, with whom it was a regular.

  • Chris Randall 3rd Jul '13 - 7:53am

    I’m sorry but the holidays fixed by an agricultural, christian based society is not what we are anymore, we need to change with the times and the school holiday is firmly fixed in the Roman Catholic Medieval Middle ages. It is time to move on and maybe examine a four term year with half terms to give 5 week learning blocks with the last week for Bank Holidays. At least now it will have a possibility of happening unlike when under the control of councils frightened of the Unions.

  • Richard Harris 3rd Jul '13 - 8:21am

    Another blinder from Gove. The man won’t stop fiddling until he is Tory Leader.

  • Richard Harris 3rd Jul '13 - 8:26am

    @Chris Randall – do you have an issue with Christian elements in the school calendar? Would you be happier if children worked through Christmas and Easter if they didn’t happen to fall mathematically at the right time?

  • David White 3rd Jul '13 - 9:37am

    I start from the position that each new Wizard Wheeze from Mr Gove is a bad idea. There are quite a few barmy OldCon ministers but Gove is right up there with best/worst of them.

    When I read that Mr Gove wants to leave Europe I was ready to contribute a fiver towards his fare to North Korea, which would provide a good retirement home for him.

  • Richard Harris 3rd Jul '13 - 9:41am

    …and I’ll donate another £5. Now he can go by Ryanair.

  • I’ll donate £200 for his baggage, of which there appears much.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jul '13 - 10:29am

    Nick Thornsby

    It suits Wellington College to have long, lazy summer holidays because the parents are wealthy enough to make sure their children have interesting, enriching things to do for 6 weeks. But in inner city Leeds the parents can’t afford to take the time off work, never mind go on interesting holidays, so the children are sat there bored for 6 weeks, doing nothing that expands their horizons.

    When I was young, my parents could not afford to go on holidays, and after their money was spent on the basics, there was very little left for anything else. Yet we never had trouble finding things to do. Give us some paper and some pens, or a cardboard box and some scissors and sellotape and we were away. We used to read, we used to play games.

    What kids are provided with in terms of the hardware of their bodies and the software of their brains is much the same the world over, and had been over history. Yet in what other time and other place do kids just sit there with “nothing to do”? Kids will naturally explore the world around them and pick up whatever there is around them and play with it. We are programmed like that, it is how we develop as human beings.

    This idea that kids need to be constantly given a timetabled programme of activities is wrong. That is how you end up with kids who lack a sense of independence and self will. The idea that kids need expensive entertainment is wrong – it is all part of the way in which the corporate world acts as the swivel-eyed free-marketeers accuse the state of acting – making us dependent on it and dumbing us down and taking away our sense of initiative.

    In my mind, show me a kid who is “bored” and what you will be showing me is a kid who is boring. Sure, a little bit of boredom is necessary to encourage that independent self-development. Kids whose lives are filled with frenetic activity pushed on them don’t develop that way, and hence become boring. The long summer holidays should be times for kids to really get into self-development and exploration, it doesn’t need to be done on a booked holiday abroad, and it doesn’t need to be done with expensive kit.

    Regarding both parents being unable to take time off work, what sort of society is it where we can’t arrange things so that parents have time to be parents? Are we so short of workers in this country that we have to force everyone to work in formal paid jobs? Are there so few people unemployed that we have to do this? Across the world and across time it would be assumed that care for a young child is a job in itself, the idea that someone who is doing this is “unemployed” and therefore should be forced to abandon their child and work for an employer not even considered.

    As for parents being unable to afford to take time off work, people feel forced to work long hours in a way that is unhealthy for them and their family in order to pay for the high cost of housing, yet the net effect of throwing more money into paying for housing in this way is to push house prices up further – that is how the market economy works. Who benefits from all this? Only the very wealthy, who fill our media and our think-tanks with propaganda for their case, and who pay their agents even in our own party, to push it. In the past it was assumed that a person of working age should be paid enough to afford housing to bring up a family. Why, when society as a whole is much richer than it was then, are we unable to do that now? Perhaps we need to be thinking in a much more radical manner than we have done about how things are organised and whether this is to the best. What is this “Economy” we are supposed to serve? Shouldn’t the economy be serving us rather than vice versa?

  • John Heyworth 3rd Jul '13 - 10:39am

    Three points on this subject:
    1. As someone who works in the travel industry one of the most frequent criticisms we come across is the price increases that occur during the school holiday period. If Michael Gove’s plan was implemented it would be much harder for tour operators to arbitrarily “fix” these prices. This would make it much more affordable for parents and families to enjoy a break. A plus for the plan.
    2. Parents with children in different schools may find it harder to co-ordinate holidays if differing schools had differing terms. I therefore think it may be wise for senior schools to work closely with their main feeder primaries to ease this situation. A problem that can be overcome.
    3. The abolition of the long 6 week+ summer holiday and the introduction of fixed length terms would allow for teachers to more evenly plan their lessons, would lessen the burden on parents having to find activities to entertain their children in the holidays and ease the burden (and cost) of childcare. A plus for the plan.
    The teaching profession sadly don’t accept change easily – Had Gove consulted them they would still find objections. It’s in their DNA. On this one I’m with Nick Thornsby, I hope Gove pushes ahead with his idea. It can only be to the benefit of the pupil.

  • @John Heyworth

    “3. The abolition of the long 6 week+ summer holiday and the introduction of fixed length terms would allow for teachers to more evenly plan their lessons, would lessen the burden on parents having to find activities to entertain their children in the holidays and ease the burden (and cost) of childcare. A plus for the plan.”

    It would not ease the cost of childcare since the reduction in weeks during the Summer would have to be met by an increase in holidays at other times of the year, unless you are proposing an actual increase in the number of weeks pupils spend at school per annum in which case there would be a considerable increase to the taxpayer in the additional salary that would need to be paid to teachers. Are you proposing to increase their workload without paying them extra? As for the point of teachers being able to more evenly plan their lessons, it rather smacks of something you’ve just made up rather than anything grounded in the reality of lesson planning. Furthermore, the purpose of school is not to provide childcare, it is to provide education. If you are asking schools to cover extra childminding facilities for those extra two weeks then somebody has to pay to bring the childminders into the school to cover those two week, unless you think that teachers should do this extra childminding for free?

    “The teaching profession sadly don’t accept change easily – Had Gove consulted them they would still find objections.”

    Again, this rather smacks of something you’ve just made up about teachers and their attitude. If I were to make a comment along the lines that people who work in the travel industry are inflexible in their attitudes to change on the basis of nothing more than my say so and despite me knowing nothing about people that work in the travel industry then I suspect you might get rather defensive, but that is exactly what you have just made up about the teaching profession. The reality of the teaching profession is that it has been subjected to almost constant change for the last three decades thanks to government treating treating education like a political football. In contrast to your stated opinion the reality is that is that teachers (well, those that have remained in the profession) have had to adapt to change on an almost annual basis. I can’t think of any other profession that has had to adapt to so much change.

    “I hope Gove pushes ahead with his idea. It can only be to the benefit of the pupil.”

    You haven’t described why such a change would benefit the pupil. You have only described a change that would benefit parents in receiving extra free child care at the expense of the people that try to deliver education.

  • I think what is being missed is a consideration of what the child needs and how that can be satisfied, whilst enabling the adults involved to meaningfully contribute both to the child’s development and to society.

    Firstly we seem to be agreed that formal schooling should have time reserved and be limited to three terms a year.

    There also seems to be agreement that children benefit from after school clubs and activities (certainly my children enjoy their various groups) however currently few schools arrange after school activities so that a parent doesn’t have to leave work early so that they can chaperon children around (in my house who ever is at home can forget about working between 3pm and 7pm several days of the week). Children also benefit from unstructured time where they can practise skills learnt and develop coping and self-motivation skills.

    There is also some agreement that children can benefit from the long holiday, but this is dependent upon circumstances. I think part of the problem that both Matthew Huntbach and Nick Thornsby miss, is the different standards we have allowed ourselves to sleep walked into. When I was at school, it was expected that once you had passed your cycling proficiency you could go out on your own and ‘explore’, whereas today parents permitting such behaviour would be regarded as being irresponsible.

    There is some recognition, that teachers need meaningful amounts of time away from the classroom. Also that children need to have time away from the same set of teachers/adults. Hence it is wrong to assume that existing school teachers are the best people to lead the out-of-normal-hours activities.

    So I suggest we need to think differently and be prepared to be bold and increase our investment in out-of-school clubs and activities so as to make the actual term dates less important. This could actually provide work to a larger group of people.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Jul '13 - 12:27pm

    Roland

    I think part of the problem that both Matthew Huntbach and Nick Thornsby miss, is the different standards we have allowed ourselves to sleep walked into. When I was at school, it was expected that once you had passed your cycling proficiency you could go out on your own and ‘explore’,

    Oh, I agree with you on that. I only didn’t mention independent outdoor activities because I didn’t want to bring up the additional issues that involves. So I mentioned paper, pens, cardboard boxes, reading and games, but yes, going off to parks on our own or just mooching around the neighbourhood was also a standard part of our childhood. We walked to and from school on our own (a mile and a half, but then you could spend the thruppence bus fare on sweets) from the age of about 7. I was fortunate to be brought up with the South Downs a mile or so one way, and the beach a couple of miles the other, and we walked to both (my family did not have a car). Walking across to the other side of the downs to see the view and back again (about 10 miles in total), on our own, was another common childhood activity.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarPatrick 13th Dec - 9:03am
    There was a respectable increase in the vote share of the Liberal Democrats. The antiquated voting system caused a decrease in the number of seats....
  • User AvatarEd Shepherd 13th Dec - 8:59am
    I stand by my comment about English voters not accepting Scottish leaders. Gordon Brown was not accepted by the English as a prime minister. Jo...
  • User AvatarChristian 13th Dec - 8:47am
    As much as I like Sir Ed Davey he can’t be the next Lib Dem leader. Swinson was constantly having to defend her record in...
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 13th Dec - 8:43am
    @ Ed Shepherd "English voters will never accept Scottish party leaders". What a load of............. Jo Grimond, David Steel, Charlie Kennedy were all well thought...
  • User AvatarKrissi 13th Dec - 8:32am
    I see a lot of posts here saying that we should stop going on about the EU etc. My problem with this is that I...
  • User AvatarGraham Jeffs 13th Dec - 8:29am
    Let me try again, albeit slightly modified. Not a good national campaign because, among other things: a) The ‘Revoke’ commitment has gone down like a...
Tue 7th Jan 2020