The former director of Ofsted and the man who was previously responsible for all academies in England have both put their weight behind proposals to cut summer school holidays.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, who was Ofsted’s chief inspector from 2012 to 2016, said the restructuring of the school year was “long overdue” and would be supported by school leaders and many parents.
Sir David Carter – who between 2016 and 2018 was the National Schools Commissioner overseeing all academies in England – said the move could boost learning and help support children from poorer families. But he said for the plan to work all schools would have to switch to the new schedule or it would create “chaos”.
In March, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson revealed in an interview with i that he plans to shorten the summer vacation and redistribute the vacation period to create a five-term school year.
The idea is part of the government’s thinking on how to help young people catch up on learning lost due to the pandemic.
The main rationale revolves around the idea of ’summer learning loss’: when children are out of school for a long time, research suggests that they tend to forget what they have learned.
Sir Michael said I he had seen it firsthand. “A six-week long summer break means that returning kids have often fallen far behind than they should be. It takes a while – and I’m speaking as a former director on this one – for them to catch up. ”
He said he was “surprised” that the school year had not already been restructured, and thought that “most principals in fact agree that it is long overdue“.
A year of five terms has already been attempted by some schools. John Cabot CTC – a Bristol school that has since turned into an academy – used the system in the early 2000s.
At John Cabot, the year was divided into five quarters of about eight weeks, followed by a break of at least two weeks and four weeks of summer vacation.
His principal for much of this time was Sir David Carter, who would later become the National Schools Commissioner.
He said I the system had many strengths. “There has definitely been a learning loss” with many children losing “the habit of being in school”. The length of the evening terms made sense from an educational standpoint, and the shorter summer was also better for the well-being of some children, as they missed things like school meals.
“If you were to design an education system from scratch, I would design it from the year of five quarters,” he said.
While the system was pretty much manageable in a school, Sir David said it became untenable when he set up a chain of academies with a growing number of schools. The problem was that if families had a child in a school off the chain, or if a parent was teaching elsewhere, they would have to face the logistical nightmare of two different vacation dates. For this reason, John Cabot returned to the standard calendar in 2009.
Sir David said if the government was serious about change then every school will have to do it. “It will be chaos if you have 10,000 schools doing it and 10,000 schools not.”
For a new school year to work, the government will also need to ensure that two key groups are on the side of teachers and parents.
The education unions do not exclude supporting it. Last month, the National Education Union said it was “right” to consider such ideas in the wake of the pandemic.
Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, said I that more vacations at other times of the year might actually ease teacher fatigue.
Sir Michael said he believed parents would “see the value” of shorter summer vacations as well.
“A lot of parents hate this six week break because it’s so long, the kids are bored and some of them are in trouble,” he said. John Jolly, the managing director of the charity, agreed that many families would support the change. “I certainly would have appreciated that when I was raising my son,” he said. I.
While long summer vacations are usually tied to the agricultural calendar and the supposed need to free up children to help with the harvest, more recent research suggests that they actually have their roots in the 19th century and class habits. Victorian professionals.
Parliament and the courts went on recess between July and September, and this gradually seeped into the wider middle class, with UK public schools taking long vacations to care for these parents.
In doing so, they set a model for public schools when they were launched in the late 19th century. “The imbalanced school calendar is a kind of permanent reminder of our long-standing classroom system,” said Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter. I.
Some adults will object to the five-term year, fondly remembering the sunny and seemingly endless summer vacations of their youth. Would it be cruel to take this away from future generations?
Professor Elliot Major said long vacations are “good if you come from a supportive environment, but for a significant number of our children in this country, that is just not the case.”
“The argument against this tends to come from the privileged middle classes who do not see this poverty… the calendar is still really shaped around the behavior of the elites.
In any case, he thinks many adults look back on the summers of yesteryear with rose-tinted glasses.
“We all think summers were like the heat wave of 1976 – we all think we spent all six weeks running in the parks. The truth is, we probably did this for a few weeks and then we probably got a little bored. Our memory is a funny thing.
“And to be fair, the UK weather is not always reliable.”