Wayne Chadburn is a mathematics teacher and columnist for Liberal Base. He lives in Penistone, South Yorkshire where he serves as a Town Councillor. Wayne blogs at waynechadburn.wordpress.com and Tweets @waynechadburn.
The start of the school summer holidays are marked with celebrating students and teaching staff and (for some) groaning parents and worries around family finances. This year is a little different because for the vast majority of students, it follows almost four months of home schooling.
One of the many quoted benefits of being a teacher in the UK is the holiday entitlement. Those that have no concept of what it is like to teach often think a teachers working day is aligned to the students – we start at 8.30 or 9 and are home for tea after three and on top of this we get thirteen weeks paid holiday a year. If it really is like that, why doesn’t everyone want to be a teacher? This concept is of course total fiction. The working day for a teacher is much longer than that for their students, taking in planning, delivering and assessing learning as well as countless other tasks. It isn’t uncommon for a teacher to work a 60-hour week taking in a good portion of the weekend and evenings. Unlike many jobs, most teachers take their work home with them. However, the thirteen weeks holiday isn’t (quite) a myth. It is wrong to say most teachers do nothing work related in those thirteen weeks.
If you are a teacher and want to go on holiday you are restricted to going during the school holidays when prices are significantly greater than they are in term time (which is why I don’t begrudge parents taking their children out of school – the savings far outweigh any possible ‘fine’ they may receive from their school or local authority).
I believe there is a serious case to be made for cutting the length of the long school summer holiday. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a turkey voting for Christmas – I still believe there is a case for retaining the amount of holiday entitlement teachers and students have, I just believe a single 6-week block away from school is a luxury/inconvenience we can no longer afford. The lockdown has highlighted the economic and educational costs of being away from school for a significant period. There is the issue for working parents of finding suitable childcare for children that cannot look after themselves and the concerns about leaving some children who maybe are able to look after themselves. There is the significant added cost to the family finances of feeding and entertaining children over this period – as was highlighted by Marcus Rashford, who forced a U-turn by government in providing vouchers for children on free school meals over the summer period.
The biggest cost however is the learning loss students encounter due to the length of the holiday. The evidence about the summer learning loss is clear and unequivocal, particularly at the younger end of the educational spectrum and to children from more disadvantaged backgrounds. It is estimated that this loss in learning ranges from one to three months over a single summer holiday. Children from more advantaged backgrounds and where parental support for education is greater suffer a smaller loss than those from disadvantaged backgrounds and/or those where parental engagement in their children’s education isn’t consistent and high quality. Over the years, this learning loss builds and contributes significantly to the underperformance of disadvantaged children at GCSE and beyond causing a significant barrier to social mobility.
The summer holiday still needs to be there – it marks the end of one academic year and the start of the next and a sort of reset in schools – however I believe a case can be made for cutting the summer holiday in half from 6 to 3 weeks. This would have a knock-on effect on the exam season and the time required from sitting the exam to receiving results but, if we follow the advice from my previous post (ditching exams at sixteen) on turning to continuous assessment at GCSE, this would only be an issue for A level exams and I don’t see why they shouldn’t have that longer period between finishing A levels and going to university or the workplace.
I do not advocate those three weeks disappearing. There is room for an extra week at October/November half term – the longest and most challenging of the three terms – allowing seven weeks continuous education either side of a two week break. The other two weeks could be tagged on the other half terms or what about if teachers could take these two weeks during term time (in negotiation with their leadership teams and avoiding key times of the year) as normal workers take leave, allowing teachers to take a vacation without being ripped off by the holiday industry.
There is an educational and economic case for cutting the summer break which would benefit our children, their families and our schoolteachers. I would be interested to hear the views of parents, students and my fellow teachers.