Friday, January 8, 1999 Published at 11:27 GMT
Summer holiday to be cut?
Pupils are said to fall behind because of the long holiday
The traditional long summer holiday for schoolchildren could be on the way out.
Instead of a six-week summer break, children would return to school after about a month under the plans.
They would get extra holidays at other times, with the school year being split into five terms instead of three.
The proposals are being put foward by the London boroughs of Newham and Croydon, as well as Bradford, Bristol, East Sussex and Thurrock.
They stem from concerns that children's education loses momentum over a lengthy summer break, and that the long winter school terms cause unnecessary strain on both staff and students.
Education officials believe their proposals will be popular with parents and the travel industry, who would be given the flexibility to spread family holidays more evenly throughout the year.
The proposals come after Tony Blair was criticised for extending his family's holiday beyond the start of the school term - a week after the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, backed calls for the rules on unauthorised holiday absence to be tightened.
'No reason not to do it'
The House of Commons education select committee has called for a five-term school year, arguing that existing arrangements date back to a pre-industrial economy when children left school to bring in the harvest.
But the government has resisted proposals for change after strong opposition from teachers' unions.
Newham's education chairman, Graham Lane, said local authorities were responding to the success of five-term year schemes already introduced by a number of city technology colleges.
"Parents and teachers seem to like it, so there seems no reason not to do it," he said.
In Newham, consultation will start next week on plans which would see children break for around four weeks in the summer, then have another two-week break in October, two weeks at Christmas, two weeks in March, a bank holiday at Easter and then a further two weeks in May.
"The main benefit is that teachers and pupils have less stress, and the children learn better," said Mr Lane.
"At present, both summer and autumn terms can be up to 17 weeks. That is too long and truancy is often a problem.
"Then when children return after the long summer break, teachers notice they spend the first couple of weeks getting back to speed again, and may have forgotten what they learned the term before."