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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 15:13 GMT
Should schools have fixed terms?
An independent commission set up by England's education authorities is recommending that they move to a six-term year, starting in 2003.
There would be two terms of about seven weeks in the autumn, with a two-week break, then four terms of six weeks after Christmas, running up to a summer holiday of at least five weeks.
The aim is to standardise the system across the country and smooth out the existing variations in term lengths.
Easter might fall during a holiday or it might not, depending on the Church calendar.
Should school terms be fixed? Should the Easter holiday move with the church feast? Is five weeks in the summer enough - or too much? Does having everyone on the same fixed holidays make parents an even bigger prey for travel companies?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I don't think this new move will deal with the real problems facing education everywhere.
This is similar to shuffling the deck chairs before the sinking of the Titanic. Here in Kenya students are overloaded with numerous academic subjects and they have no time to develop other competencies and interests which are vital in this world which seems to reward entertainers, sports people and not the academically bent. If this new move reduces the time spent by kids doing other fun activities then the stress at school will increase.
David Hazel, UK
Besides trying to relegate Easter to have as much significance as a May Bank Holiday, what difference would these changes really make? It has been said in the past that the purpose behind these changes are to make it easier for universities to offer places on exam grades rather than mock/estimated grades. This is to make it easier for a minority of school leavers. What about the rest of the education population? With shorter summer holidays how many parents will be unable to take time off? More children will be taken out of school during term time. Who will benefit most from these changes? Universities and travel agents, fewer holidays available will mean higher prices for those parents who value their children's education and refuse to remove their children from school during the term and teacher's families who will have even less time together.
Don't think that teacher's spend all their holidays doing nothing most spend nearly every evening, weekend and most of their holidays planning, preparing, marking, filling in forms, reports, changing lesson plans to suit the latest changes to the curriculum and everything else that they do that is never fully recognised. Do teacher's children like having teachers for parents? They complain and many teachers feel that they spend more time concerned about other people's children than they are able to about their own children. If you have to make changes talk to the people whose lives and families are affected most.
We moved from the UK 18 months ago to Ontario. My children are now in a school system which has 3 terms. Sept - Dec, Jan - March, March - June. There are no half terms. 5 "bank" holidays [including Good Friday and Easter Monday]. Then a 10 week Summer Break! Now I know why they have summer schools. What I'm trying to say is that there is a certain amount of work to do in a school year which still needs to get done so does it matter when the terms are?
To all those teachers complaining about being tired - it's not just you! Every occupation is demanding these days, and I am constantly tired. You chose to go into teaching. Changing the holidays only is a waste of time. Let's see the whole system overhauled and then consider if changing the holidays would have an added benefit.
By all means standardise school terms so that they all start and finish on the same days, but no increase in the number of terms please!
Six terms means six lots of school holiday, which to childless people like me means even less time to take holidays without the "school holiday" increases loved by travel companies and tour operators.
If the government honestly wanted to improve standards, students would repeat the year each time they failed to get C grade minimum across the board. This works well for our European neighbours, France and Germany, why not for us then? The ill-disciplined unmotivated pupils in our schools today would soon learn that the only way they could leave school is with good grades. Surely this "great term-switcheroo" is simply a publicity campaign? Get down to the real nitty-gritty Blair, less of this wishy-washy spin.
Talk about rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic? There are bigger and more vital problems within our system of education than term structuring. If we want to change to a better system we need only copy any one of our European neighbours, most of whom seem able to churn out children who can count, read, and write to acceptable levels. Why do we have this strange notion that an idea or system can only be any good if we thought it up?
In any case it is not the terms that are responsible for perceived deficiencies in education but many other factors including chronic and in places acute under-investment.
Local Authorities should stop tinkering and start justifying their privileged places as so-called representatives at grass roots levels.
What exactly is the problem that the suggested 6 term scheme is trying to solve? It sounds very much like change for the sake of change.
The idea is designed for maximum disruption to working parents, with questionable benefits for children. If Easter falls in a new "term" instead of a holiday period, that means 2 days Bank Holidays wasted. It will be impossible travelling in the UK over the 4 days, whereas now an Easter break can be stretched within the school holiday fortnight.
Two weeks holiday in October when the clocks change and it is dark by 5 PM sounds like hell on earth. Unfortunately my children will have to suffer yet another educational experiment which will probably be discarded as unworkable after a few years. This plan is neither realistic nor practical.
As an ex-primary teacher, I welcome this move which is very belated. Children slip back in progress over the break. Expensive premises are empty for many weeks. Ignoring their own well-being, teachers soldier on robotically, thinking they can "catch up" over the summer break - it's not a sustainable way to live. (Note that I'm an ex-teacher!)
More change heaped upon a system already groaning under the weight of red tape and regulations sent out by Government departments? This doesn't seem to be the best way to either improve standards or to raise teacher morale! Also, will shorter holidays increase the number of parents who choose to take their family holidays during term time, disturbing both their own education and disrupting that of the rest of the class? If so, shouldn't teachers be allowed to take their family holidays when it is cheaper too?
From our point of view, the students won't find it a good idea. When they have holiday every two months it is more difficult to concentrate on their studies because they look forward to the holiday.
Five weeks summer holiday is another disadvantage when you are used to have two months.
We strongly believe that scattered holidays are nice for the students but less for the parents. How do they have to arrange this? They need childcare or take vacation themselves.
When the Easter holiday doesn't move with the church feast, a lot of Catholics won't find it correct, because the symbolism will disappear. In our opinion it is not really a problem.
We really do think that it is better not to change the original structure of the school terms.
Am I missing something, at present the summer holiday is six and a half weeks with three terms each divided into two half terms with a weeks break between. Two weeks holiday at Christmas and Easter.
The Autumn term this year was 15 weeks with a week break, that's two half terms of seven weeks. So instead of half terms they are now called terms!
I have lost my voice, I am tired and all I want to do is to be able to take a day off to recover - what do I do? I am a teacher and as such I will be at work tomorrow dealing with 150 tired and often irritable pupils many of whom also want to be elsewhere resting. We are all exhausted - where is the benefit to learning in this state? We need to be able to re-energise just the same as everyone else.
Unlike parents who do take pupils out of school teachers cannot take holidays at any time and they, in particular, are at the mercy of travel firm prices. In addition I would love to be free of report writing and parents evenings when the days are longer rather than having the shorter daylight hours of late August. We also deserve holidays, especially as many of us use the time to catch up on tasks such as administration, preparing resources and lessons in our so-called holidays. Regular breaks would help us with these tasks too.
I have read some of the contributions by teachers who say the pressure of teaching is so great they need a 6 week summer break to recover. Which other profession allows tired and pressured employees (think about doctors, firemen, air traffic controllers, etc) 13 weeks of paid leave during the course of a year to recover? Children would definitely perform better with shorter, more evenly spaced holidays.
What the education system needs is stability, not constant tampering. Three terms has worked well for many millions of people for decades in numerous countries. There seems to be no substance behind the recommendation.
This is also a purists' look at education. How about considering the parents? Many families need two income earners and this will make life very difficult for them.
Sandy, Bermuda (formerly UK)
Speaking from personal experience, the principle of having shorter terms and holidays would be preferable to the long slog with no end in sight - particularly in the Autumn term. However, why not have the best of both worlds by basing the new terms more closely on current term dates - after all, we already have six terms of a sort when you consider that each of the three terms is split in two by a week's half-term holiday. Surely the new system could be planned without us having to spend August at school?!
When I was a child, my father taught in a different county to me and my brother's schools, hence there was only a four week overlap. It didn't affect us unduly, but I can see the potential difficulties for families with a single or 2 teacher parents. Also, siblings in different LEAs, perhaps through divorce or other factors, will not have their holidays together. All this makes childcare and family interaction more difficult. If these dates were standardised, everyone would know where they stand. All children have to go to school for the same number of days each year, so what is the problem?
With regard to shorter terms, more equal holidays - this is an excellent idea which has been thwarted many times by those who want to remain stuck in the past. Yes there would be teething problems, but in the long run I believe it would be advantageous. My children get irritable at the end of the long holiday and the longest term, meaning that a good few weeks are largely unproductive.
A good idea - at least for the younger children. My 5 year old is in her last week of her first term at infant school. She and many of her classmates resemble the living dead, they are absolutely exhausted. Last week she told me she needed to have a lie down in the playground at lunchtime - how can she and her classmates be getting the most out of school in this state? A more even workload throughout the year makes sense.
Lets see a slower syllabus and fewer holidays. Give children 4 weeks holiday a year, and stretch the same syllabus out over the increased school terms. That way, when a child misses school (either through illness or one of 10 days optional holiday), there isn't so much work to catch up on. Teacher¿s workloads are not as intense, and bright sparks can then be taught at an accelerated rate and pass their exams 2-3 years early.
Where is the groundswell of popular opinion pushing for this change? Why inflict further change on a system already trying to cope with many previous unwanted initiatives?
Angus Gulliver, UK
Here's a revolutionary thought - how about increasing the quality of teaching and/or the curriculum as opposed to having lower quality schools but longer terms? A great many students are leaving school without basic maths and English skills.
What about the many families where the parents both work? It is possible to cope with half-term holidays (with luck and help) and longer summer, Easter and Christmas holidays at least make it possible to plan or get temporary help. But several medium-sized breaks will make it harder to juggle family and careers. I cannot see the advantages to children or anyone else.
Richard N, UK
I like the thought process behind this: improving children's performance and giving teachers more regular breaks. In my judgement: use some common sense in developing 21st century policies, instead of remaining duty-bound to outdated traditions.
Why not worry about the state of our education system rather than how we can better fit holidays into the year?
We're meant to be developing stronger links with Europe, but instead the government is proposing to start the term at the beginning of August. Parents would be forced to take holidays in July when their European counterparts are taking them in August - it's ridiculous!
Never mind the terms, what about the teaching and the children? The recent mess with the AS level exams proved yet again that government and in particular educational departments at government level do not know how their initiatives work in practice. Ask any secondary teacher involved or the children who have been guinea pigs since their year six with all their SATs. It's just another recipe for another mess.
Andrew Cover, UK
Go back to school at the start of August - you must be joking. Also, you always lose a couple of days at the start and end of a term in administration and non-working time. As a student, I don't support these proposals. Instead, the government should simply increase the length of each half term to a guaranteed week - the same overall effect would be produced.
It is much better to have a shorter summer break and two week holiday periods in the spring and summer. Holidays outside of the main season are far safer for children than the dehydration and sunburn of July and August, and a wider range of dates for a two-week annual holiday is to be welcomed.
Spreading school holidays more evenly throughout the year would make it much easier for parents to budget for childcare costs without the massive increase that is seen during the summer months.
As regards the length of school holidays, I well remember the long slog through the autumn term, which was made doubly hard by the lengthy summer break. Whoever decided that eight or so weeks of inactivity followed by the longest term of the three was a good idea was sadly misguided. Shorter breaks and shorter terms would, I think, resolve these difficulties.
In theory, I have no problems with the concept but in practice I can see a couple of problems straight away.
The shorter summer break will further push up the prices of holidays during this time, increasing the likelihood of parents taking their children out during term time. With the change to the start of the academic year, what will happen to children already at school whose birthday falls close to the current cut-off date of August 31?
This strikes me as yet more activity designed to look like progress. It is a nonsense, which will cause yet more disruption. Surely the key thing is to provide a safe, enjoyable learning environment, and to ensure the teachers, buildings and equipment are there to facilitate it. Where is the proof that this latest initiative will improve the quality of education? I suggest the Department of Education talks less and does more.
Cynewulf: This initiative does not involve the Department of Education, it is purely in the hands of local government. Other than that, it is a ludicrous idea.
Why not six equal terms and holidays which would make planning for parents and companies simpler?
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