Education & Family

Heads to consider scrapping six-week summer break

Children play on Blackpool beach Image copyright Christopher Furlong

Head teachers are to investigate the benefits of scrapping the six-week summer holidays.

Proposals to spread holidays more evenly through the year were discussed at the NAHT union conference.

Its leader Russell Hobby questioned whether the current 13-week term structure was healthy for staff, arguing changing it could reduce stress and cut holiday prices for families.

But head teachers wanted more evidence of the benefits of such changes.

The government gave academies and free schools in England permission to vary term times earlier this academic year.

This is due to be extended to all state schools next September.

Support from head teachers means schools would be more likely to make changes to term times.

'Ready to drop'

The move also comes after Education Secretary Michael Gove toughened up rules on parents taking their children out of schools at term times for family holidays.

Now this is only allowed in exceptional circumstances with many parents complaining they face high prices for holidays in peak season.

Mr Hobby said: "One of the things that I'm concerned about is whether the current structure of holidays is also healthy for the people who work in schools as well.

"It seems like, at the end of term, everyone is ready to drop and that actually, not reducing the amount of holiday but distributing it more evenly across the year might be one solution to that."

He added: "However, we don't have any particular liking for every school going its own way.

"We would like to see local or regional co-ordination, but at that point you could also have the opportunity to have a staggering of holidays around the country.

"So if different parts of the country within local authority boundaries or regional boundaries had slightly different holiday times I think that would ease the pressure on the prices of holidays as well."

He said the change would take away some of the excuses that both parents and teachers made about missing school days.

Admissions queues

Mr Hobby was talking at his association's annual conference in Birmingham, where an "education manifesto" of proposals for the next General Election was adopted.

A draft version said: "We propose more frequent, shorter holidays (adding up to the same overall number), staggered across the country on a regional basis to reduce the holiday price premium."

But this will now be qualified by a proper study into the benefits of the changes and the impact on children's learning.

The document also calls for disadvantaged pupils to be allowed to jump school admissions queues. Under the plans they would be given priority over other potential pupils by virtue of being on a very low income or benefits.

If adopted by political parties it could lead to a major change in school admissions and may radically alter the character of some schools.

The thinking behind it is that presently many disadvantaged families are effectively priced out of the catchment areas of good schools by high house prices. This means it is harder for poorer children to attend the better schools.

Mr Hobby says: "Looked-after children currently get priority in admissions.

"What if we extended this right to all children on free school meals, who could automatically go to the head of the admissions queue for any school their parents chose?

"At a stroke, this would limit the house price barrier to good schools and secure more firmly the comprehensive principle of education."

The NAHT resolved to carry out an impact assessment of the policy before presenting the arguments before the main political parties.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "More parents and children have the choice of a good school place thanks to our reforms - the number of children in failing secondary schools has fallen by a quarter of a million since 2010.

"Academies and free schools can already give priority to those children eligible for the pupil premium while maintained schools are able to apply to the secretary of state to do the same.

"The new admissions code is clear that all school places should be allocated in a fair and transparent way."

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