Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Heat Is on over Long Summer Holidays

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Heat Is on over Long Summer Holidays

Article excerpt

Call for frequent short breaks to ease staff stress and boost learning

The summer holidays, allowing weeks of respite from the stresses and struggles of the classroom, have long been regarded as sacrosanct by the world's teaching profession. But radical plans to cut the summer break and spread holidays more evenly throughout the year have been proposed by the UK's biggest headteachers' union.

Although politicians have in recent years grown increasingly keen on providing the flexibility to change the traditional three-term academic year, schools have largely remained stubbornly resistant to the idea.

However, proposals by the NAHT union could lead to members ditching the six-week break and allocating more holiday throughout the year to ease the pressure on teachers. The plans are the most significant move so far towards altering school terms on a widespread scale.

The proposals, due to be discussed at the union's annual conference in Birmingham this weekend, are likely to provoke impassioned responses from all sides, and will highlight an issue that has been debated internationally.

Teachers in England and Wales, along with those in Germany and Denmark, already have the shortest summer holidays in Europe. At six weeks, the break is less than half the length of the holiday in countries including Bulgaria, Estonia, Italy and Turkey, where schools close for 13 weeks each summer. High-performing Singapore shuts its schools for seven weeks and the US has a three-month summer vacation.

In a wide-ranging manifesto on the future of education, the NAHT argues that existing term structures make it difficult for teachers to "reduce their hours to a manageable level under current budgets". "A different pattern of holidays might help teachers, parents and pupils," it continues. "We should debate more frequent, shorter holidays."

Academic research suggests that long summer holidays have a detrimental effect on children's academic performance, with young people forgetting some of what they have learned.

One of the key research papers, a 1996 meta-analysis of 39 US studies, found that at best students showed no academic growth over the summer and at worst lost one to three months of learning. …

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