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Tuesday, September 7, 1999 Published at 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK


Unions oppose five-term year

The long summer holiday is abolished in a five-term year

Teachers' unions have spoken out against the five-term-year as the first primary school to adopt it opened its doors for the new school year.

The new school calendar at Woodlands primary school in Grimsby means the introduction of five eight-week terms divided by two-week breaks.

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The long summer holiday will be abolished and from next year there will only be a four-week break, a reduction which is intended to tackle "summer learning loss" - in which pupils forget what they have learned in the previous term.

The BBC's Sue Littlemore reports: "The main national unions don't like it"
The changes are intended to raise levels of achievement and the performance of pupils under the new structure will be carefully monitored, with the possibility of other primary schools following their example if the pilot scheme proves successful.

'No argument for change'

But teachers' leaders are opposed to the reorganisation of the school year.

[ image: Chris Woodhead's department will be keeping a close eye on the school's progress]
Chris Woodhead's department will be keeping a close eye on the school's progress
At last year's annual conference, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) voted against the five-term year, with delegates saying that the long summer holiday was the 'last perk' of teaching.

The union says there is "no sustainable educational argument for change", and that there will be knock-on effects on a number of important organisational issues, including school transport and admissions.

The union's general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, said it had no members in Woodlands Primary School, but that members in other schools were urged "not to go down that road".

'Serious disincentive to teaching'

"We are very much opposed to the five-term year. It creates far more problems than it solves," he said.

[ image: Pupils get down to work at the start of a new term]
Pupils get down to work at the start of a new term
"It means parents will have to look after their children in the winter, with more holiday time in March, which will have an impact on parental control.

"There is no evidence that it raises standards, and it is a serious disincentive to teaching. The long summer break is seen as the last fringe benefit of teaching."

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has also expressed grave concerns about the adoption of the five-term year.

On Tuesday, as Woodlands Primary School opened, the NUT General Secretary, Doug McAvoy, said: "Those that propose a five-term year must demonstrate the educational evidence for such a move. The burden of proof is on them.

"Currently there is no evidence for change. Parents and teachers will oppose piecemeal change which causes disruption and appears to undermine teachers' conditions of service."

Fresh start

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has also rejected claims that a five-term year would raise standards in schools.

It has told its members not to be pushed into accepting changes to the school year, when there was no evidence it would bring improvements in pupils' performance.

General Secretary Peter Smith said: "There isn't any clear evidence at all that chaing the pattern of the school year improves educational achievement.

"I think there's a degree of gimmick in this - if it's new, do it, without thinking through carefully whether it's practical, and if it is practical, whether it works."

[ image: Nigel de Gruchy:
Nigel de Gruchy: "It creates more problems than it solves"
Attending the formal opening of the school was the Chief Inspector of Schools in England, Chris Woodhead, whose department will be paying close attention to any improvements brought about in standards by the revised school year.

The shift to the new pattern is part of the school's fresh start after failing an Ofsted inspection.

The school's deputy head, Julie Saunders, says the switch away from the traditional three-term year has been backed by both parents and staff.

'Present system is crazy'

When the shift to the new calendar was announced at the end of last term, the headteacher, Tom Wilson, said that a five-term year made much more sense.

"Our present system is crazy," he said. "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."

[ image: Tom Wilson:
Tom Wilson: "It maximises learning opportunities"
A parent-governor at the school, Joanne Mascall, welcomed the change as helping her family to take holidays at more convenient times.

"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."

John Herbert, of the National Governors' Council, said he also supported the introduction of the new calendar at Woodlands Primary.

"The National Governors' Council is very concerned with the standard of learning children are receiving, and we do want to see what the effect of this trial will be," he said.

Butr there have been mixed reactions from the public at the idea of changing the school year. East Sussex was considering becoming the first local education authority to adopt the five-term year, but a public consultation exercise found widespread opposition and the proposed changes were dropped.

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