Page last updated at 07:46 GMT, Wednesday, 18 July 2007 08:46 UK

Not all going on a summer holiday

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education reporter

Children ending term
The end of term has already come for most children across Europe

Children in England and Wales have the shortest school summer holidays in the European Union.

With many schools about to begin a six-week holiday - there are schools on the continent which are shut for 16 weeks over the summer.

But there is little sign of a link between longer hours in the classroom and higher standards.

Schools in Finland, one of the most successful education systems, have been on holiday since the beginning of June.

Germany and Liechtenstein are also at the bottom of the holiday league with six-week summer breaks - but many European countries have holidays that stretch between 10 and 12 weeks.

Family friendly?

It means that English and Welsh state school pupils are still studying when almost every other classroom in Europe is empty and family holidays are in full swing.

SCHOOL SUMMER HOLIDAYS
England, Wales: 6 weeks
Germany: 6 weeks
Scotland: 7 weeks
Austria: 9 weeks
Sweden: 10 weeks
Finland: 11 weeks
Italy: 12 weeks
Portugal: 12 weeks
Bulgaria: 16 weeks

Both the government and opposition have been campaigning on supporting the family.

But if the drive for extended schools continues, families in England could see even less of their children - with plans for more schools to provide term-time "wrap-around services", offering after and before-school activities between 8am and 6pm.

And the English school system also involves children starting in education at a very young age - with increasing numbers of three year olds in nursery classes attached to primary schools.

In contrast, many northern European countries do not start compulsory education until children are seven.

But there is no evidence that spending so many more hours in the education system delivers better results - in fact, the countries with the lowest teaching hours have the most successful systems.

Less is more?

Each year, the OECD publishes a report comparing the performance of education systems in the industrialised world.

TOTAL HOURS IN SCHOOL
England: 7,274
Spain: 6,827
Sweden: 5,924
Germany: 6,250
Finland: 5,523

(Hours in school between aged 7 and 14)

And this shows that the countries which have the lowest number of hours in the classroom - Finland, Norway, Sweden, South Korea and Denmark - are also among the countries with the highest level of achievement.

Independent schools in England, which often get two more weeks in the summer than state schools, are among the highest flyers in exam league tables, apparently not suffering from their reduced hours.

The ATL teachers' union heard warnings at its conference earlier this year that parents' long working hours - and children's increasing time in school and child-care - meant that family life was being damaged.

Teachers warned that such a long-hours culture for children, away from the influence of family life, was a factor in aggression and anti-social behaviour.


We invited your comments. Here is a selection of some of your views:

I think that 6 weeks in the summer is a good length because the children have more breaks throughout the year. I wish we had a shorter summer, I live in the US with 12 weeks in the summer, 2 weeks at Christmas, one week in March and several long weekends. We are told that if we do not so some form of school work, then the children loose 25% of what they have learned and spend they seem to spend the first month each year reviewing last years work. My children aged 6 and 9 spend 2/3 days at a (day camp) centre that provide lots of activities which help with the boredom and so I can work from home without distractions. Children do not do well with long hours - even as adults are we really productive towards the end of a long day?
Lorraine Bowring, Meridian, Idaho USA (ex pat)

I have been teaching primary school in the UK for the past two years, and I have to say that, although I would appreciate a longer summer holiday (the last ten days of school are hard on both students and staff), I really do enjoy the frequent 1- and 2-week holidays scheduled throughout the year. Just when I feel I can't bear another moment in the classroom, a holiday pops up. Very good for re-building energy and boosting morale. Last year, when I told my students about the 3-month-long summer holidays in parts of the USA, there was a universal moan of envy--until they heard the trade-off, that US students get a few long weekends, two weeks at Christmas and a week at Easter, and no other holidays during the school year. Suddenly a long break did not look so pleasant anymore.
Lawrence Wilson, Mayfield, East Sussex

Not everything is learned in school. Part of learning comes from spending time with family and great summer experiences...that shouldn't be taken away from kids. There's more outside books and classrooms.
Nisha, Chicago

Schoolchildren in Iceland have 3 months' holiday in the summer, but they are required to do community work such as weeding roadside verges. They're probably pleased to get back to school in September, having had a taste of what the future might be like if they don't get a good education, especially as - unlike here in the UK - Iceland doesn't seem to have a benefits system that discourages people from seeking work. Iceland has just been voted the happiest country in Europe, by the way: I wonder if there's any connection.
Brian Cox, Wooler, Northumberland

The UK seems to be madly trying to impose on children a system that includes long hours and school uniforms, but yet it does not work. We should follow other EU countries examples, because if you try and shove education down their throats, they're not going to thank you for it. We should stop pretending that our state schools are private schools; that just makes them worse.
Alice, London, UK

In Malta we also have a long summer stretch for 11-12 weeks. However in our case we must consider that our summer is scorching hot and it would be torture for the students to stay in a class. Another thing is that we do not have a two week mid term holiday or autumn holiday for example!
Mase, Malta

I'm from Belgium and one of the few things I found really odd, and different, was the amount of time that children spend at school. In Belgium you only get 4 full days of school, and one half day on Wednesday. Which I have always found great as a child, and I never had problems with after school care. Also, the summer holidays in Belgium start on the 1st of July and end on the 31st of August. There is no difference in regions, which is the case in the UK. I believe that's fair and square for every child. And my parents have always managed to find solutions around all of these holidays and Wednesdays, so I don't see why parents in the UK can't do the same?
Vanessa Verlinden, Bromsgrove

Here in Chicago there are some schools which are open year round, allowing for those parents who genuinely have no choice but to work. They are very popular! And even when parents do have the luxury of being able to stay home, it's not like they are all born entertainers - my own mother stayed at home with us and we spent our summers watching TV or playing outside. Those weeks could have been spent much more productively in a summer school or even just staying in regular school.
Jennifer, Chicago, ex-UK

Northern Ireland has 9 weeks summer holidays (they break up around the same time as Scotland and return in September about the same time as England & Wales). They receive the same education as their English & Welsh counterparts and do not fare any worse in examination results than the other legions of the UK.
A Watts, Paulton

Typical UK approach to things, it's all about quantity over quality. I knew we have the longest working hours in Europe and yet some of the lowest productivity, now I find out that we have the longest school terms in Europe, with some of the lowest educational standards. Same in my office, it's not how good at your job that determines bonuses and promotions, it's how much extra overtime you're perceived to have done. Being good at your job and getting things done in normal office hours gets no praise, yet if you are seen to be working late to get the same tasks done it's fast track to management.
Nick, London

It's important to consider how long students get other holiday breaks during the year. I know my friends in England get 2 weeks at Easter, and longer breaks for certain holidays than in Canada. While we get out of school in mid-June, the numbers seem to balance out either way.
Kalvis Mikelsteins, Toronto, Canada

I have always believed 6 weeks is far too long, everything is more expensive during the hols, also, the children do get very bored, it is hard for working parents to provide the time to go out especially during the week to spend with our children. I think the summer hols should be split up more, extra week at Easter, Christmas, and perhaps have another week half term during the year.
Jackie Smith, Newton Abbot Devon

Why do people bother to have children if they never want to spend any time with them? Starting school even younger, longer hours at school, longer terms. Having children is a privilege not a right. If you decide to have a child, then please spend quality time with them, giving them a sense of identity and security rather than leaving them to be raised by tired, worn out and disillusioned school teachers.
Roxanne, London

In response to Roxanne I have to say I DO raise my children and I spend quality time with them. I also work - I believe I also have a duty to support the children I chose to have financially - as a working parent I have to work 9-5 and as such an 8-6 school day suits my needs. It's a fact of life that many parents have to, or want to work - providing a positive role model for their children. Or should we all give up our jobs and rely on the state? I work part time - between 8:30 and 4:30 Tues-Thurs I do not magically stop being a parent - I still raise my children - they just spend 22 hours a week at school or with a childminder! For working parents those 6 weeks can be a nightmare of juggling childcare and work!
Kerry , Birmingham



SEE ALSO
Long-hours threat to family life
04 Apr 07 |  Education
Youths 'bored in school holidays'
11 Jul 07 |  Education

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