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Wednesday, July 14, 1999 Published at 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK


Primary school adopts five-term year

Some argue long summer terms wear out young pupils

A primary school in north-east Lincolnshire is about to introduce a five-term year, which if successful could be applied to more than 80 other schools in the region.

Parents and governors at Woodlands Primary School in Grimsby approved the measure, which starts this September, after a consultation exercise.

North East Lincolnshire Education Authority may apply the new system to the 82 schools in the region in September 2001 if it turns out to be successful on both an academic and practical level.

"There is absolutely no proof, and therefore no guarantee, of the alleged beneficial effects on education that people claim it might have," says Geoff Hill, the LEA's Director of Education.

[ image: Chris Woodhead has been invited to open the school]
Chris Woodhead has been invited to open the school
"But I think we owe it to all of our children, not just the ones in Woodlands, to see whether it does have those benefits and if it doesn't then we'll put it in the bin and think of another new initiative."

He is currently in discussions with the Education Department about bringing in outside consultants to assess the switch-over.

The academic year will be divided into five eight-week blocks with a two-week break in between and four weeks in summertime.

Three-term year 'is crazy'

The head of Woodlands Primary, Tom Wilson, argues that pupils' education would benefit, teachers would be able to pace themselves and parents would save on the cost and worry of trying to entertain their children over a long summer break.

"Our present system is crazy," he says. "A five-term year maximises learning opportunities because each fortnight break gives teachers a recovery time in the middle and it gives children a recovery time as well because they also get tired."

Woodlands Primary is a new school formed from the separate Bradley Park Infant and Junior Schools. Ofsted inspectors judged the junior school to be failing and Mr Wilson was brought in to turn it around.

As a result it has just emerged from "special measures" and Ofsted's Chief Inspector of Schools Chris Woodhead has been invited to open the new school on 7 September.

Consultation exercise

The five-term year was the first proposal Mr Wilson put to the governors and parents via letters, a public meeting and a request for written repsonses.

Feedback was hardly overwhelming. Only 38 out the 300 or so parents responded, but there was only one objection - that practical difficulties that might arise from having two systems in one area.

Parent governor Joanne Mascall, who has two children at Woodlands, thinks five-year terms are a good idea.

"I was pleased about it as a parent because my husband is a shift worker and we struggle to fit in holidays as a families - it gives us more opportunities to have holidays together."

Pros and cons debated

She also points out that occupying children for a minimum of five weeks over the summer "doesn't come cheap".

The pros and cons of abolishing the three-term year have been widely debated.

The teaching union NASWUT voted against a national policy on five-term years back in April complaining that teachers would lose their greatest perk - the long summer holiday.

Local branches have also objected to Woodlands Primary's move on the grounds that as the only school with a five-term year, it would be out of step with all the other schools in the region.

Earlier this month, East Sussex LEA had to abandon its plans to change after overwhelming opposition from parents and teachers.

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