Shorter Summer Holidays?

Yahoo has the article

The latest news of complete stupidity: a ‘think tank’ on education has recommended a quite substantial change of the academic year. Currently in England, the school year is split up with with a couple of 2 week breaks – at Easter and Christmas – several 1 week breaks between these – in October, February and May – and also the 6 weeks summer holiday in July and August. I think that is a pretty good spread. But a happy think tank? Unheard of. If they were happy, there’d be no point in their existence, and we can’t have that.

“The school year could be divided into five eight-week terms with a fortnight’s holiday between each”

I sighed when I saw that. What good would that possibly do? The claim is that “Research suggested that pupils lose some of their reading skills during the long summer break”. This may be true, but is it important? Is it even prevalent? Furthermore:

“The report followed concerns from Ofsted that progress raising educational standards in England has “stalled”, with one in five 11-year-olds unable to master the three Rs”

That says it all: they’re chasing statistics. And these are primary school people – for me that’s just depressing. Why should we have perfect test scores for everyone, as seems to be the aim? Surely that would work against itself, and especially for the cleverer people. That’s a topic for another post, but the goal of continually increasing statistics seems dubious to me. 80% succeeding in all areas is great, not everyone is cut out for academia.

Will this huge change even help? I can’t really answer that, but for those academic children, they will continue improving at home anyway, as I did, by reading Horrible Histories books, by getting out and about and reading the language all around us in signs, shops, buildings, adverts, and increasingly by being on the internet – it is full of our wonderful language. For the less enthusiastic children? Well, is it really that important? How far can skills actually fall in an extra four weeks?

It would seem to me that children would probably just be out of the routine of school life, and so putting them in front of a test the minute they get back is surely not going to bring out the best in them. A week later, however, it’s my bet they’ll be even better than the last term. Children like learning, and they do learn, but school isn’t the only thing in their lives. To sum up: any decrease in performance is likely very small, for a minority, temporary, and not important.

To fully realise why this is a stupid idea, it’s important to remember why we do have the long summer holidays.

  • To take advantage of the weather. In the UK, like a lot of places, the best weather comes in the summer. The sun shines and the rain doesn’t usually fall. This lets us do things: go to the beach, go for a walk, go for a ride, sunbathe, and just to be outside. It’s pointless having extra days off during, say, March: everyone would just be stuck in playing Xbox. Being at schools during the hottest months would be completely unproductive: look at these African nations: they only run half days at schools because they know it’s pointless to work in the searing heat of the afternoon. Whilst it’s not as hot here, us measly beings, accustomed to 4 and 5 degrees, would surely feel the same.
  • For holidays. Imagine if the only time off during the summer months was maybe 2 weeks in July, or 2 in May and 2 in August. Oh would it be madness. Cars would literally drive over each other in a scramble out of the cities, the beaches would be a swarm of people running all around looking for the best places to lie, sea levels would rise dramatically due to the huge increase in surfers and swimmers, and planes would crash-land with their abnormal loads if they can’t keep it up. Mayhem. But seriously, people like long holidays – in the summer, 2 weeks would be a minimum. So, either millions of people would take to their cars and to the airports on the first and last weekends – something you do not want to be in the middle of – or, people would take extra time off school, thereby not helping their statistics at all, as this idea hopes.
  • For work at school. Small point, but any works and major changes at school need time to happen – the best time is the 6 week holiday.
  • The biggest reason I think: To give people a break. I can’t really say how important summer holidays have been to me, and I’m sure many others. Whilst some may claim to get “bored” (yah right) during the holidays, for others it’s a time to forget about school. Making school a relentless part of a child’s life from the age of 5 would just be awful and a huge mistake. What I always looked forward to when at school was the summer holidays. For me, that was my goal, what I was aiming for. When I reached their, I knew I had come to the definite end. I loved that. With only a 2 week holiday – school never ends. And so, children learn much earlier of how much of a drag school can be, without having the innocent fun and learning and inspiration that should be the whole idea of primary school, not chasing ever greater statistics. Though some may not realise it, the summer holidays are very important to children.

Children also need to grow up, and to have a childhood. During the Christmas and Easter holidays, yes, it’s time off school, but it’s never far away. But in the summer holidays, it’s different. You’re free, you feel you have endless time. You can pursue what you want, you can develop in your own way, you can enjoy being a child without a single thought of school or SATs or maths tests or comprehension or science. I liked to build sand castles and go out on my bike, play in the paddling pool and play Super Mario. It was good fun, and my favourite time of the year.

I may have got out alive, with good long summer holidays. I just hope it stays that way for others.

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