The great school holiday debate

How would you restructure the school year to better support and improve teacher wellbeing and student learning? Gerry Mallaghan proposes a shorter summer break and longer half-terms in SecEd.

According to official government statistics, every year since 2012, the number of teachers recruited to the profession has been below target. It can be argued if the word crisis applies or not, but there is clearly a growing issue with the recruitment and retention of teachers.

In my opinion, the issue is being compounded by the fact that the government is focusing much more heavily on recruitment than retention – although recent announcements on workload suggest this may be changing slowly.

The issue of school holidays reached the news a while ago after one person suggested on a mumsnet forum that schools should run for 52 weeks a year!

Of course, schools cannot and should not run for 52 weeks a year. However, I did start to think about the longer July/August summer break, currently one of the shortest summer holiday breaks in Europe, and the impact it might have on issues including teaching, learning, teacher recruitment and teacher retention.

Like many teachers, I use the week-long half-term break as a chance to catch up on marking and paperwork, rather than to really take a rest (we may not go into school and we certainly enjoy a break from the routine, but the workload too often continues unabated).

So, what if the week-long half-term breaks became two-week breaks, as in many independent schools. Would teachers actually take some time off to relax or would they just work for the two weeks?

During the extended Easter and Christmas breaks I know that I do take some down time. Would teachers find it easier to cope if they had the opportunity to take some down time more regularly over the year?

Without a change in the length of the school day or year, the longer half-term breaks would result in a shorter summer break. It is my experience, that the longer summer break provides teachers with an opportunity to completely switch off in a way that the shorter week-long breaks often do not. So there is a risk that, without the longer summer break to recharge, the rate of teacher burn-out would increase.

What about the students? If asked, most students would express their dissatisfaction at the concept of losing the summer holidays.

So how would it work if the summer holiday was reduced in favour of more regular but longer breaks across the entire year?

First, the school year would probably need to stay the same length, with 39 school weeks and 13 weeks of school holidays. When I first started teaching, the school year started in September. Now I find myself back in a classroom teaching at the end of August. So, for consistency, my proposed system would see the school year always start in September.

Between each teaching block there is a minimum of a two-week holiday. This would allow staff and students time to complete any homework or work they needed to get done, while (hopefully) still leaving them time to take a break and rest.

Read the full article and see a proposed school year timetable  The great school holiday debate

What do you think? Would you prefer more 2 week breaks? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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  1. School year – Designed in the ancient past to enable children to work the harvest with a long summer, perpetuated because overall its nice and allows teachers a needed break.

    An overly long summer term that has little academic value in the last 2-3 weeks
    The best weather in the UK tends to be up to Mid August
    A long summer break is a long break from learning and this is amplified for disadvantaged children
    There is an advantage to reorganising two low value (academicallly) weeks in the summer term to elsewhere in the year.
    Long terms in the cold, wet winter do not encourage healthy active lifestyles
    Increase in the amount of dark/cold weeks in school (increased energy costs and tired children)
    Focusing of holiday time into the most expensive peak holiday weeks in the summer increasing parental costs and children being taken out of school in term time
    Teachers are forced to book holidays at the most expensive times
    The summer holidays is very hard to manage for working parents

    My suggestion

    Finish mid July and come back Mid August (4 weeks + teachers would regain the bank holiday as a separate holiday)

    13 day October half term

    3 weeks and 6 days Christmas holiday (finish earlier in December)

    Spring term unchanged as it is so short

Let us know what you think...