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Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
Should there be a six-term school year?
The Independent Commission's controversial proposals could end the hayfever misery of high summer exams. It could also mean A-level students could apply to university after their exams already knowing their grades.
There are also proposals for summer holidays to be staggered in different regions.
The government says it has no plans to back a change and stressed parents, teachers and school governors would have to agree with the Local Government Association's proposals.
The current school year was devised more than 100 years ago - so shouldn't we keep something that has worked for so long? Or is this the change parents, children and teachers have been waiting for?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Hilary Rowland, UK
The needs of those studying for GCSEs and A-Levels are different from those at primary school, for example, so applying the same rule to all may not be appropriate.The current system is not so broken that urgent action is desperately needed, but it should be replaced with one that has been well researched and that takes into account the needs of children, teachers and parents. More work needs to be done.
Changes do need to be made, but not quite so drastically. You could get away with shortening the summer holiday to five weeks quite easily. This week can then be added to the half-term holiday before Christmas. This will break up the horrid Autumn term better.
Before any new legislation is drawn up, I hope teachers who have school age children will be carefully consulted and listened to. They are able to consider the issues from a variety of different angles, and their contribution to the debate will therefore be extremely valuable. (Incidentally, I am a secondary school teacher without children of my own).
Why can't teachers be allowed some time to get their head around the many changes in education that have already been implemented by this Government? One of my biggest concerns is that children are already having many of the joys of childhood taken away from them by the pressure of tests, targets, levels etc.
Giving pupils "work" style holidays does not help education. It would also take away one of the now sparse perks of teaching - a long holiday.
Andrew Mard, UK
We cannot live in a nutshell. Our holidays should coincide with the ones in other western countries due to common climatic pattern. This way the children can visit friends and cousins outside UK and viceversa to be more in touch with people outside the UK. However to increase the school study days a bit is not a bad idea due to the increasing workload.
Having attended school up to the age of 18, staying on to do A-Levels and in the process of choosing a university, I can say that I am not going to miss school one bit, it has been a long hard time for many years and I needed the holidays I had to take a break from it. Why is someone always moaning about standards in school? The results are ever increasing, what's the problem?
We already have a six term system! What we now need is stability, so that educators can plan for the long term. Since starting teaching 13 years ago, something new has been tried every year with little real long term success. We now need to avoid "here today and gone tomorrow" politicians controlling long term educational policy, people who stumble from one political crisis to the next, using quick fixes before their time in office expires.
Donald Fraser Miles, Canada
I am a 16 year old student and I vehemently support a six term school year. The term between September and Christmas is a stressful one, both for teachers and pupils alike. Students are being subjected to more examinations and long terms place more pressure on them. Taking exams earlier would mean that students receive their results earlier, giving them more time to sort out their university or A-Level courses. The whole idea is very logical and should be implemented as soon as possible.
Two points. First, the summer holiday is the one time of year when kids are free to be kids and nothing else. No homework, no school, no pressure. That MUST be good for them, why take that away?We all know that the odd week or two here and there comes and goes all too quickly.
Second, anyone who has suffered a sixties-built classroom with big windows on a hot day knows that a British comprehensive is no place to be at the height of summer. I recall many an unpleasant hour in a language lab with headphones. I really hope people think a bit further before making these decisions.
Ray Marsh, Australia
This is just more changes for the sake of it. It's worked so well for so long. My mother is a teacher and I think the only thing that keeps her sane is the thought of the summer holidays. It seems to me that "stressed parents" who can't cope with their children for 6 weeks should try being a teacher and looking after a class full!
Having read through all the comments I find that most of them are selfishly put, but that is the human thing to do! Kids will want to keep the six week summer break (although they usually complain within the first week that they are "bored". Teachers will want to keep the summer break because "It's SO stressful teaching all these kids". Parents would most likely want the summer break abolished so that they don't have to "waste" taking time off work to "look after the kids". You can't win. Personally, I think that the summer break should be 3 weeks long max and that the school day should be 9 - 5 as is the rest of the average working day. This would solve everything.
One of the major advantages of not having school-age children is the ability to travel outside of peak times and save a lot of money. This also has to be the biggest way in which parents are ripped off. If school terms are shuffled I wonder if we'll all suffer, as kids lose their academic edge and travel companies hike the prices to rip us off whenever we travel.
It seems to me that parents and pupils always have something to moan about and even though the present system is not perfect if it were to change it would bring more complaints. The change could result in different areas having different holiday dates and lead to confusion for parents when planing holidays. So while the present system may be antiquated,the devil we know is better than the one we don't.
Yep! Just goes to show how many of your contributors are out of touch with the reality of the education system! If teaching was such an easy touch with acres of cash for little work and long holidays, why is there a serious teacher shortage? Rather than waste your energies on the six term year debate (it isn't going to happen...), ask yourself what the salary range should be to attract a graduate to choose teaching as opposed to the other graduate professions (the law, medicine, the city, civil service, etc) Now, that's the real challenge!
The way I see it is that UK schools have it easy. Privately educated in Rhodesia, we had three terms, much shorter holidays and no time for children to be bored and get up to no good. Homework took 3 - 4 hours every night (from Year 7 onwards) and it certainly did me no harm. It made no difference whether the schools in Rhodesia were private or government, the terms and holidays were exactly the same. There seem to be far too many youths hanging around the streets, bored out of their minds and getting into trouble.
I'm a newly qualified teacher from Bournemouth and I don't understand why there is all this talk about changing the traditional school year. To say that children forget what they have learnt at school during the summer holidays is nonsense. Children have managed fine for the last 150 years so what is the problem now? In addition reducing the length of holidays and increasing the length of the school day is just another attempt to shift the onus of looking after children from parents to the school. The breakdown of family life in the UK means that the responsibility of looking after children is being increasingly pushed onto schools and teachers. The government should be looking for ways of promoting family life, not allowing it to be undermined as such proposals surely would.
Shorter holidays would be easier for the working parents who can't take time off for 6 weeks at a time. Teachers are already paid across summer etc and therefore there shouldn't be an increase in teachers' salaries - although greater costs to keeping the school buildings occupiedI think we need to re-evaluate holidays and term times and but essentially keep everyone in mind.
As someone who has just finished my GCSEs I think there's no need to change the current 3 term system. However, I do agree with Wayne Buttery's earlier comment - the Christmas term is too long, I'm exhausted and find myself, my classmates and teachers all physically ill at the end of term. Add a week onto the front end of the Christmas holiday - but apart from that the present system is fine.
Whatever happens can only occur with the approval of the teaching profession. Contrary to current opinions they are not childminders and if parents cannot or are not interested in looking after their own children for 6 weeks in the summer why have them in the first place?
I certainly think that the education system would benefit from some large adjustments in almost all areas to increase efficiency, effectiveness and productivity and this includes the number of terms in a year and the length of holidays. I am a 15 year old attending a comprehensive and think that shorter terms are productive for GCSE students and above but not suitable for students in the lower school or for holidays to visit relatives abroad. Although staggering might ease this problem, it then causes problems for those with relatives in other British regions. I think more consultation needs to be made of the teaching community, parents and also the students to reach a much more efficient system and I don't think the present proposals have passed the prototype stage yet. To rush this will only cause huge disturbances and prove costly and wasteful of both time and money.
6 terms? I understood the original ideas centred around 4 terms which makes much more sense. One can only assume the bright spark who came up with that idea has no school age children of their own! As for staggering the holidays in different regions, plain stupid. Families are spread throughout the country, therefore generations of children may grow up never knowing their cousins. My own children see their cousins during the school holidays. Different holidays would mean they are likely to never meet. Is this the way forward if the Government is so insistent on the promotion of families? Has any parent or child out there ever been asked their opinion?
In all these post no one has noticed that this is a proposal for a six-term year. How is this different to a 3 term year with half-terms or a 6-half-term year. They say a six week summer holiday as current that leaves 7 weeks to spread around the rest of the year, currently 2 for Easter and Xmas and 3 one week half-term holidays. They say up 2 of the half terms to 2 weeks this would mean Xmas and Easter would have to come down to one week - how is this different to the current system. As for the A-level exams, I went through it last year and had no problem, why change something that's been working for nearly 100 years.
If it aint broke don't fix it.
We live in a rapidly changing world in which our educational system is evolving. If these proposals are not accepted, it is inevitable that the academic calendar will have to be revised in the not too distant future. A key feature that makes much more sense is the fixing of the so called Easter break, so too is the date for A level results. The system we have now is crazy!
Having studied in England and now working in education in America, I feel that the new proposal is a great scam on children, parents and teachers. Don't the children have enough work to complete during the school year that when they complete the work they are given a six week holiday to become kids again, instead of educational robots. The six weeks is a time when parents - yes parents - become the role models they should become to their own children. Teachers in England get a raw deal. The average teacher works a lot more than the average 9 to 5 person and well the summer break is a time when the teachers gets to catch up on their own personal lives and start the planning of the work that the children need for the next term.
As a teacher and a parent I would welcome a change to the system. Teachers are too tired at the end of long terms to make educational use of the breaks. As a family we find 6 week breaks become very expensive.
Why do schools and teachers need to have 13 weeks holiday? Most workers in the UK get only 4 or 5 weeks. The closure of schools and the 13 weeks paid holiday of teachers is a disgraceful use of public resources. It is absurd that a school year established 100 years ago is still used. If the school year was of similar length to a work year, working parents would be able to take time off at the same time as their children. Alternatively, schools should remain open in the holidays (from education) to act as day care and sports/recreation centres as the staff are already paid for, and the facilities are otherwise idle. The tax payer is paying for these facilities and teachers, it is about time they are properly used. Perhaps more to the point, I could suggest that children should actually be taught something for 47 weeks rather than 39!
I certainly think that the summer holiday is far too long. Children have the right to play and have a proper childhood, but 4 weeks for a summer break would be quite long enough - otherwise they get out of the habit of study; and the years work prior to then is mostly forgotten.
I think it would be healthy for children to get away from the institution of school more often and recover a bit between terms!
For my important exams I was given huge steroid injections which are not really good for your health in the long term. I got reasonably good grades - I could have got excellent grades if I hadn't been slowed down by illness and medicines at exam time.
Jo Lord, UK
Perhaps if the school year was longer, the extra work now demanded of children could be fitted in to school time - giving them more time to play when they get home?
Also, with fewer holidays, the school year would prove less of a problem when shuffling leave.
And let's face it, school holidays interrupt the flow of study anyway (and result in bored kids who end up squabbling with each other).
Having lived in both the US and UK, and having 3 children, I can see there are advantages and disadvantages to both systems (long summer holidays to short). The bottom line I feel is that older children are better off with a longer summer to possibly work or do volunteer work in their community. Younger children tend to forget and lose academic skills by having too long of a holiday in the summer.
If you really want to wait until you have A-level results, surely it would make more sense to take as year out, and apply next year along with everybody in their A-level year who aren't intending to take a year it.
Jeremy Rogers, England
Further to Michael's point about Easter, it may even go some way towards eradicating the ridiculous notion of celebrating Easter at all. We could then turn our attention to the other great pagan festival masquerading as a Christian holy day. I'm all for it for educational reasons also.
What is the need to change the existing system? If something with the existing system is imperfect, then it need be only modified. Six-terms year is going to be another step towards bombarding students with more work in less time, will promote more cheating on exams. It basically will amount to more work, less education and therefore minimal actual knowledge from learning at school.
Living in Switzerland, we have 4 terms with the vacation periods that are now being proposed in the UK. It makes sense and allows parents to be far more flexible about when to take their family holidays. Also, the children have less time to get bored!
I'm not sure the proposal will go down very well among teachers, many of whom stay in the teaching profession because the long Summer holiday is the only perk of what is otherwise a low paid, low status and very stressful job. Tampering with school holidays yet again is a very good way of making the already chronic teacher shortage even worse.
David Yates, UK
As a working parent, not only would shorter more frequent holidays be easier to accommodate, I would much rather book time off work at regular intervals through the year to spend time with my son than have a long hard slog throughout the year and then completely overdose on one another's company for six solid weeks. All the children I know are desperate for the summer holidays to begin but spend the last two weeks wanting to be back at school with their friends.
Although not a perfect system at the moment, the single largest problem lies between the A-level exams and university entry. Why not have a FULL summer term, culminating in A-levels, with the university year starting in, say, January so that the exam results are known before applications were made. Effectively this would mean the universities shifting undergraduate entrance by one term with minimal disruption to all concerned. Or is this too obvious and simple?
Everyone who is a teacher or has school age children would want to go on holiday at the same time. This would push up holiday prices. It might also mean that some parents might be unable to take annual leave during the school holidays because everyone else in their office wants it at the same time.
I think it is a very bad idea
Tony Hague, England
I feel that this is a good idea in theory. As a teacher, and a young one at that, I get very tired as the end of the Christmas term nears. This term is something like 18 weeks long, and by the end, all parties are virtually crawling to the finish. Anything that could alleviate this would be welcomed by the majority of teachers I feel.
One of the issues associated with shorter and more frequent holidays that no-one in the media seems to have mentioned is flexibility with regard to holiday arrangements. Currently teachers and people with children are restricted to the peak holiday times, but at least they have six weeks to choose from. How could it possibly work if everyone wanted to go on holiday at the same time?
David Watkins, England
The current six week Summer holiday is a long time for children from poorer families to go without free school meals. Shorter, more frequent holidays may help spread the financial burden for parents caring for their children during the Summer.
What a shame if school children could no longer enjoy the long summer holidays. Children need time to take things at their own pace rather than fitting into structured timetables all the time. I remember going back to school in September fully refreshed and eager to see my friends and do some work. With shorter breaks I am sure I wouldn't have felt that same enthusiasm.
In Belgium the kids have regular weekly tests and the results count as 50% of the end of year result i.e. you cannot pass the year on exam results alone - work all year round is required. Some changes could be made to the UK system but not so drastic. Regarding staggered holidays in different regions - the Belgians tried that with different dates for Flemish and French schools - they went back to the original system.
Margaret Carre, Belgium
What? Its totally unnecessary to change the school system, any changes will just result in more work for teachers in organisation and less work for children. Having just passed through the current system, I can say it works fine and as for the comments that kids don't care about education that's absolute rubbish.
This would seem, on the face of it, to be a rational response to the problems inherent in the current system.
But, what will the impact be on industry, with the obvious change in the holiday patterns of working parents?
Furthermore it's a step towards eradicating the absurd notion of having Easter at completely different times each year!
Michael Kilpatrick, UK
I'm half-way through my GCSE's and I'd welcome lots of week-long or fortnight-long breaks, especially with coursework and regular tests that teachers set us. A bit of short time apparently allows the stuff one learns to settle in the head and besides which, it's good to have a little bit of time to re-charge your batteries.
I think that taking a couple of weeks off the summer holidays and adding it to the other holidays may be better. After all, working parents have to arrange time off work to be with their children, but you just try and book 6 weeks off work these days. If you have that much allowance I envy you!
Paul Charters, England
There exist two extremes with respect to education: The American school system, also known to be just an extended summer camp. Or the Japanese school system otherwise known as an educational slave-labour camp. I am glad to see that the British are moving more towards the centre.
So when are A-Level students supposed to get a job to pay their tuition fees? And to answer Rajish in his question about what benefits the government gives clever children, the answer is simple. A £3000 fine (tuition fees) and a higher tax load.
I think moving the summer holiday to July is a good idea, for those of us with relations in Europe, it would be far better if our holiday was at the same time as theirs, so we can visit each other for longer periods.
The system is fine as it is. Why change
something that's not broke? When I was a kid
I loved the summer holidays. I wouldn't
like to deprive my kids of this. Parents
who complain about their kids should
look more at themselves than their kids.
You are proving once again why most other countries still follow the British method of education. Keep it up!!
Paul Shuntz, USA
An absolute non-starter. Try persuading teachers to take this on board
I agree with Caroline that there are
too many half term holidays, it should
only be at the end-of-term and the
Roll on another 100 years unchanged and sitting at the bottom of the Western world's education figures, courtesy of the teachers.
Tim G, UK
The fact that you are even considering changing the current absurd length of school holidays shows just how far ahead of the US you guys are with respect to education. Over here high schools give at least nine weeks of summer vacation while most colleges give up to four months! Most of the time these kids are left to vegetate at home for long periods of time or work menial jobs at the mall while they earn minimum wage and learn very little. This may explain why, at least in education, the USA still lags behind both Europe and Asia.
One of my sons attends a City Technology College (non-fee paying alternative to secondary school) which already runs the five term system. We have found this to work extremely well for everyone, in particular because there are no ad-hoc 'in service days'. This is a much better work pattern for parents and children alike and we would highly recommend it.
Nicholas Evans, UK
I think the exams being so late in the academic year cause needless stress on those who blindly apply for a place in higher education without first knowing their exams grades. I therefore welcome the six-term school year.
Sitting A-levels in April or May won't make any difference to applying for university, since students have to apply before the end of December the previous year. Also, instead of changing the duration and timing of school terms, the school day should be made longer.
This proposal does little for working parents. It keeps an impossibly long six week break which seems to go against the findings that pupils slip back in attainment levels during such long breaks.
I live in Scotland and we have virtually had a five term year here for ages. The kids have two weeks off in October, which makes the Autumn term bearable. (Used to be the "Tattie Holidays", when kids went to gather potatoes).
I get a big kick out of my kids enjoying themselves in the yard (garden), free of concerns, oblivious to the stresses and strains of life; this period of their development is probably the only time in their lives when they will be able to enjoy such true freedom, and I see no reason to deny them of it.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK
It's an awful idea. You'd be taking away one of the few attractive reasons to become a teacher...long holidays. What a really good way to recruit teachers that is, given the recruitment crisis at the moment!
Using that knowledge would also help students plan out and assess their options effectively.
Tom Hunt, Britain
It doesn't matter how long the term is, kids do not care about studying. These days all the media promotes is stars and footballers. No wonder this country is going downhill. What benefit's do clever children get from the Government? The simple answer is NOTHING! We have only ourselves to blame!
I can see two problems with the proposals: If exams are earlier students will not work between the end of the exams and the start of the new term in the autumn. Having a 6-week summer break is still too long. There is nothing for children to do during this period. It should be more like 4 weeks, with more 1 or 2 week breaks throughout the rest of the year.
I think that this is a great proposal! Anything to relieve the stress put upon parents trying to keep their children entertained for the current six-week summer holiday has got to be good!
31 Aug 00 | Education
Six-term school year proposed
31 Aug 00 | Education
Scotland sets pace for change
22 May 00 | Education
A-level timing is 'unfair'
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