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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 11:53 GMT
Dates set for six-term school year
School playground
Planned changes do not require ministerial approval
Schools across England could be moving to a six-term school year from the autumn of 2003.

The Local Government Association - representing education authorities - has endorsed the recommendations of an independent commission on the pattern of the school year, that it should be standardised on six terms.

This would replace the present three-term pattern, which also involves considerable local variation in terms of dates.

There has been a mixed reaction from teachers and head teachers.

chart showing planned changes

The commission was set up at the request of education authorities and has consulted them on what they want to have.

It expects the 150 authorities in England to indicate by next Easter whether they are going to implement the plans.

The Department for Education has been consulted but the planned changes do not require ministerial approval.

Key recommendations

  • six terms
  • two terms before Christmas
  • no term of more than 38 days (seven weeks, three days)
  • a two-week October break to reduce pupil and teacher stress
  • a Christmas break never less than two weeks
  • the four terms after Christmas no longer than six weeks each
  • a summer break always more than five weeks.
The biggest change to the pattern England's schools have followed in recent years would be to even out the lengths of the four school periods between Christmas and the summer holiday, to almost 30 teaching days each, or six weeks.

The two new autumn terms would remain longer, at seven weeks.

The report will not back an absolutely uniform pattern of terms and holidays of the kind operated in some continental European countries.

Local variance

But the commission is believed to have encountered strong demand for standardisation, with some flexibility to meet particular local needs.

Commission chair, Chris Price
Commission chair, Chris Price: Consulted parents
This flexibility would come in the form of five days holiday a year which schools could allocate as they wished - perhaps to take account of religious festivals outside the Christian calendar.

The fact that Easter is a "moveable feast" in religious terms means it would sometimes fall within "Term 5" rather than forming part of a two-week holiday.

The commission feels that having it just as a long weekend within normal term time would if anything highlight its special nature.

'Higher standards'

The commission's chair, Chris Price, said he was confident education authorities would support the recommendations and use their powers to change the dates of terms and holidays in line with them.

The chair of the Local Government Association's education committee, Graham Lane, said it supported the plans completely.

"We believe they will raise standards in the classroom and reduce stress amongst teachers," he said.

"We are encouraging all local education authorities to adopt the model recommended by the commission."

Support among young

Among those consulted was the UK Youth Parliament.

Its member for Bedfordshire, Richard Angell, said the recommendations were "really positive".

"We particularly like the fact that there will be a guaranteed week when every young person in the country will be on holiday. "

At The Leigh City Technology College in Dartford, Kent, which adopted a six-term year in 1999, sixth former Charles Pullinger said: "It helps us get through the curriculum and we know how long we've got on each topic and that helps us to meet deadlines."

Fellow student Aimee Acton said: "When it first came we were sceptical about the question of whether it would affect our six-week holiday, but really we don't notice any difference."

But the recommendations have not played well with teachers' unions.

The National Association of Head Teachers said it was not convinced of the need for a six-term year.

Head teachers divided

"There is no evidence of an overwhelming demand for this change. In the absence of such support it would be crazy to force schools to undergo major upheaval," said its general secretary, David Hart.

But his opposite number at the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford - who was a member of the commission - said heads wanted to see the recommendations adopted widely.

"We particularly support the proposal for a two-week break in October, which will reduce stress and tiredness in the present long run up to Christmas."

Nigel de Gruchy of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers called the idea "a lot of pain for no gain".

"We already have six half terms and tinkering around with the system in the ways suggested have adverse knock-on effects which far outweigh the potential advantages," he said.

Moving holidays from the summer to winter months would make it harder for parents to keep their children occupied.

'Premature'

The Independent Schools Council said a post-examination sixth term would make sense only if the exam boards agreed to earlier testing, and if universities agreed to alter their admissions procedures to consider actual rather than predicted grades.

To change before that happened "could leave schools in no-man's land".

The commission rejects suspicions raised by some during the consultation that the tourism industry was behind its overall proposals.

Parents and teachers often complain about the way holiday prices rise during school breaks and having standard holiday dates would only make this worse, some have said.

So there likely to be further consultation on the idea of staggering holiday dates in different parts of the country.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rory McClean
"The six school term is now in the hands of induvidual local educational authorities"
Nigel de Gruchy, NASUWT
"We have always been dismissive of these proposals"
Chris Price, chair of the independent commission
"What we want to do is even out the length of the terms"
See also:

31 Aug 00 | Education
Scotland sets pace for change
10 Sep 99 | Education
Primary school begins five-term year
10 Sep 99 | Education
Unions oppose five-term year
03 Jan 00 | Education
Inquiry to consider five-term year
23 May 00 | Education
Holiday change risks airport chaos
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