Byline: Jenny Rees
PRESSURE is mounting for a shake up of the school year to maximise children's learning and minimise stress levels over Christmas.
A cloud will hang over many families' holiday period as their children revise for GCSE and A-level mock exams at the start of the January term, whereas many teachers believe that December is the perfect time to hold exams, leaving pupils with a fresh start in the new year.
Gethin Lewis, secretary of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said that his members were divided over the matter of changing the school year.
'My view is that this time of year is the best to sit examinations,' he said. 'We have long nights, cold days and youngsters are not so tempted to go out and play, so working at home becomes easier and there isn't the problem of hayfever.
'The calendar year has a lot to promote it, speaking as someone who is very involved in primary education, the Christmas term is a perfect end to the school year, everyone relaxes and it's a natural break to move on to another class.'
Mr Lewis said problems arose because the six-week summer holiday was generally appreciated by an overworked teaching force, the Easter holidays cannot be pinned down, and the university timetable would also be affected.
Gareth Matthewson, president of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), argues that it is shortsighted to retain a pattern that was developed when children were still helping parents with the harvest.
He would prefer to see a five term year with equal terms of eight weeks and a slightly shorter, four-week summer break. Students could then apply to university after their results are known.
Geraint Davies, secretary of NASUWT Cymru, agreed that the issue was certainly a 'hot potato'.
'The consensus of opinion in our union is that almost unanimously our members feel that the academic year should be left as it is, we feel it best suits the needs of students throughout Wales.
'We are opposed to any tinkering with the system and to the introduction of a six-term year.
'The time to have children away from school is the time when the weather is at its best, not during the dark, dismal winter.'
Mr Lewis also argued that by having a school year in line with the calendar year, six months would be virtually wasted on exams.
'There are a number of problems with that idea. From the end of the A-levels you need a period of time for the marking before students go to university, and you are looking at two months for that. If universities start in January results would need to come out before Christmas, so the exams would have to be finished by mid-October, and start in September. …