Jonathan Freedland: Michael Gove, don’t steal children’s summers

Gove’s plan to let headteachers set their school’s holidays would cause chaos and end one of the defining elements of childhood, says Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian…

First it was the weather forecasters, now it’s Michael Gove – both apparently bent on the abolition of summer. Not content with the meteorologists’ projections of 10 years of rainy Junes, damp Julys and sodden Augusts, the education secretary has now taken the first step towards the scrapping of the traditional long summer school holiday.

Officially his proposal ensures no such thing. All the new move would do is remove the power to set term dates from local authorities and hand it to school heads, who could, if they wish, keep things just the way they are. Gove hopes that in a contest of headteachers against those he’ll call “local bureaucrats”, the public will back the former every time.

But you don’t have to be a teacher, or sympathetic to their claim that after an exhausting academic year they need a long break, to be troubled by this proposal. Being a parent is reason to worry enough.

Superficially, there might be an appeal to breaking the current fixed vacation times in which airlines, hotels and travel companies jack up their prices: if your kids took their big break in October, you could pay off-season rates. But what if your children go to different schools with different holiday dates? You’d end up with no family break at all.

This is why the warnings of a “free-for-all” resonate: 25,000 English schools setting their own dates is a recipe for chaos. Co-ordinating the needs of several schools rather than just one is the reason local authorities were invented – and necessary – in the first place. Besides, apart from those who can afford to fly long distances to catch the sun, who wants the schools shut in late autumn, when it’s cold and dark?

But the main threat is not to teachers or parents but children. The long summer break is one of the defining elements of childhood, a time of freedom, exploration and growing up. Note the commenter below the line who asked, “Ever notice how tall children grow over the summer?” There’s a reason coming-of-age stories are set during those long, lazy weeks when children are not regimented but find their own path.

Children are already under assault from so many directions, whether it’s relentless exam pressure or the bombardment of social media and premature sexualisation. Let’s not steal their summer too.

More at:  Michael Gove, don’t steal children’s summers

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