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The BBC's James Westhead
"Children will not get any more or less holidays under the new proposals"
 real 56k

Today programme debate on the pros and cons
of changing school holidays
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Friday, 1 June, 2001, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Attack on term shake-up plans
exam candidate
Moving exams could help university applicants
Teaching unions and the Church of England have come out against proposals to change the three-term school year to a six-term one.

The outcry followed publication of the results of a survey which suggested the idea had the backing of teachers, pupils and parents.

The study was carried out for the Local Government Association (LGA).

An independent commission set up by local authorities has recommended that the school year should be divided into six shorter terms of roughly equal length.

This would bring exams forward to April and the summer break to the beginning of July, and would also mean abandoning the Easter break.


Easter is as important a holiday as Christmas.

Canon John Hall
But the proposals to change the Easter holiday are strongly opposed by the church.

Canon John Hall of the Church of England said the church would resist any changes.

"Easter is as important a holiday as Christmas. Imagine the outcry if one abolished the Christmas holiday," he said.

Ian Bainbridge from the Christian Institute told BBC News there was a secret agenda to undermine Christianity.

"People are seeking to deny the fact that constitutionally and in terms of what people believe in, that a substantial majority of the country is Christian," he said.

"There is a different agenda to further undermine our Christian heritage."

Survey

The LGA asked a total of 2,700 teachers, heads, pupils and parents for their views on the proposals, and said 60% backed the ideas.

The LGA report suggests that one of the main benefits of moving the summer break to early July and starting A-level and GCSE exams in April would be that students would know their exam results when applying to university.

Chris Price, the chairman of the commission for the organisation of the school year, which drew up the proposals, denied that Christianity would be undermined by the changes.

"Some people have said they would like their children to be at school around Easter so they can explain what Easter is all about," he said.

Mr Price said he was pleased at the response to the survey.

"I believe the results show that we struck the correct balance. We will take the survey and return with a response later this year," he said.

No legislation would be needed to make the changes to term-times and Mr Price said his organisation would recommend that the shake-up could begin in 2003/4.

Teaching unions object

The plans have been condemned by teaching unions.

Eamon O' Kane of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women teachers said: "I remain deeply sceptical about the arguments for change in the pattern of school terms.

"No really convincing case has been advanced to justify yet another upheaval in school organisation.

"People pay lip-service to the need for some stability in the lives of teachers and pupils, yet, at the same time, blithely propose measures which will have the opposite effect."

Doug McAvoy, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The Local Government Association seems to have a fixation with changing the pattern of the school year without ever being able to demonstrate any educational benefit.

"It has treated all respondents to the survey as being of equal weight so that one person gets counted against one organisation - that is a nonsense.

"The local authorities should stop trying to fix something that isn't broken."

Blunkett "sceptical"

There has also been a cool response from the office for the Education Secretary David Blunkett.

A spokesman said the minister was sceptical about the proposals.

He said it was for schools and local authorities to decide whether they switched to a six-term year.

"However, if they wish to do so they must have the support of parents, teachers and churches.

"On the one occasion that an authority has done such a consultation, local opposition out-weighed support.

"There should be no diminution in the importance of traditional holidays like Easter."

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See also:

01 Jun 01 | Talking Point
Should school terms be 6 or 3?
02 Oct 00 | Education
Open minds on revised school terms
01 Sep 00 | Education
Six-term school year proposed
31 Aug 00 | Education
Scotland sets pace for change
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