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Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 20:01 GMT 21:01 UK
Scotland sets pace for change
Classroom
There would be six terms in the proposed school year
By BBC Education Correspondent Mike Baker

The proposed six term school year borrows heavily from the Scottish model where schools operate a calendar which is up to a month ahead of their counterparts in England.

Scottish schools have already been back for three to four weeks by the time term begins in England in September.

This earlier start means the exam season is also earlier with Standard and Higher Grade examinations finishing by early June. From early July, pupils are off on their summer break, taking advantage of the longest days of the year.

Mike Baker
Mike Baker says the current summer holiday owes its origin to needing children to help with the harvest
By contrast the main summer holiday month in England - August - is a left-over of the farmers' demand for child labour during the annual harvest.

So families braving the English seaside in the final week of August can blame the persistence of 19th century tradition for their suffering.

The Bettison family, living in Berwick on Tweed, just on the English side of the border, are enthusiastic about the proposed new six term year.

They are well placed to compare the current English school year with its Scottish equivalent as one son, Adam, attends a Scottish school while the other, Carl, is educated in England.

Hayfever

Adam has just started at Eyemouth High School, in Scotland, and has been back at school for a fortnight already. Carl is at primary school in Berwick and is still enjoying his holidays.

Adam suffers from hayfever so he sees great benefits in a school system where the examinations take place before the pollen count reaches its peak. The six term year idea, with exams in April to May, would help him and some 1.8 million other hay fever sufferers.

His friend, Natalie McGovern, also travels from Berwick across the border to Eyemouth School. Although its frustrating now while she is at school and her English friends are still on holiday, she prefers the earlier start and the earlier summer break.

"I think July is better than August for holiday", she says, "as in August it is starting to get colder whereas in July its hot and I don't want to be cooped up in school when its really hot".

Natalie and Adam's head teacher at Eyemouth is Neil Morrison. Not surprisingly, he thinks English schools are right to adopt aspects of the Scottish school calendar. In particular he favours the earlier examination dates and the earlier summer break.

Two-week half term

However Scotland might take something from the LGA's proposal for a longer break in October. The Autumn term in Scotland, as in England, is currently very long.

Mr Morrison thinks the notion of shorter, more equal terms has educational advantages. He says "there's no doubt in my mind, after 30 years in teaching, that with very long terms children, and teachers too, get mentally tired by the end of term".

According to Mr Morrison, there is already discussion in Scotland about making the October half-term a two week break, as recommended in the six term model.

Scotland also offers a model for the Easter holidays. In the Borders the school holidays are not tied to the Easter religious festival. This year, for example, the school returned from its holidays the week before Good Friday.

Mr Morrison thinks breaking the link between the Easter weekend and the school holidays is a mixed blessing.

While it does make it easier to even out the length of the Spring and Summer terms, he says it is a bit awkward returning from the holidays for a few days and then having to take a long weekend off for Easter.

However, one group who may not favour English school holidays moving to July are those who make a living from tourism in the north of England.

At present they accommodate the Scots in July and the English in August, thus extending the peak tourism season. They may not welcome all their punters arriving at the same time.

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See also:

31 Aug 00 | Education
Six-term year proposed
03 Jan 00 | Education
Inquiry to consider five-term year
22 May 00 | Education
A-level timing is 'unfair'
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