The Yorkshire Council became the first in England to cut school holidays to just five weeks beginning in the next academic year, and by doing so, the council hopes to improve students’ academic performance.
The council said the changes would help children avoid the “learning loss” concomitant with long summer holidays. It published the term dates for the academic 2017 – 2018 year, which include a shortened summer break and a two-week half-term holiday in October. The summer break will be nine days shorter.
Reportedly, the changes were carried out after consultation with all teaching, head teacher and support staff unions and staff representatives.
According to the Yorkshire Post, Ian Stevenson, the regional secretary of the National Union of Teachers, described the changes as a “recipe for chaos.” He said:
“The reason this is being proposed is ‘learning loss’. The idea that a long break harms pupils education but most of the research on this is from the United States where they have a much longer break. I think the idea that learning loss exists is contentious and it makes no sense for a council in this country to do this when we have some of the shortest summer holidays in the world.”
Since academies are free to adopt their own timetables, critics of the changes say they could complicate parents’ schedules if they have children with different holiday schedules. Furthermore, they suggest that the changes will make it harder to recruit high-quality teachers who need time to recharge after a tumultuous school year, and younger children will also struggle with such an intense pace for academics. The headteacher of Horizon Community College, Nick Bowen, has come out strongly against the changes.
Yet the council claims, as reported by ITV, that its decision to alter vacation schedules is based on sound research that shows the maximum length of a summer break should be no more than five weeks. It also said that the new dates would result in economic benefits for working parents and that they had been received positively by both students and parents.
The Sun reports that the news will “fan the flames” of an ongoing controversy over parents taking children out of school for holidays. Last month, a father, Jon Platt, won a ruling in the High Court affirming his right to take his daughter out of school for a holiday. He refused to pay the £120 fine levied against him in April for taking his seven-year-old daughter on an eight-day trip to Florida.
Interestingly, The Telegraph notes that the debate over school holidays has gone on for over a century. The publication’s reporters dug up a series of newspaper clippings, some dating back over 100 years, that chronicle the feud between parents and education policymakers over the appropriate duration and timing of school breaks.
In 1905, one mother, an advocate of staggering different schools’ holiday schedules, wrote a letter to the editor claiming families would suffer “from inability to pay the heavy prices for apartments” if all students had holidays at once. Similarly, a gentlemen in 1908 argued that “there is no reason why some schools should not take holidays during June, some during July and some during August” to avoid overcrowding and price hikes. He also mentioned the consequences for overworked “horses and donkeys and maidservants.”
Today, in Yorkshire and the nation, twenty-first-century families continue the debate and are employing much of the same language, arguments, and tone used by those of the early twentieth century.