School Holidays Too Long?


But were the school holidays too long?

As the Vale’s primary and secondary schools return for the Autumn Term, there are those who argue that the Summer holiday break has been too long and it would be less stressful for parents in particular, if we cut back on the length of school holidays. Working parents have to rely on a variety of cunning plans to cover the holiday period, often including costly child-care, amenable relatives and a host of planned activities.

It is a common perception that long school holidays are a hangover of the Victorian era, when children were needed to help work on the family farm during the summer months. That theory has been challenged by those who point out that during the 19th century, vast numbers of the population migrated from the countryside to the huge new industrial towns and cities. The long summer holidays they say, were a consequence of the increasingly successful fight by trade unions for a shorter working day and more time off. As workers enjoyed holidays, family celebrations required children to be available and not at school. The development of railways boosted the family holiday by the seaside and in the UK of course that meant in the summer months.

What of other countries?

A survey of countries world-wide reveals a similar pattern to the UK with most having long school breaks at some point in the year. Japan is one of many countries which mirror the UK, with a break from the end of July to early September.

In the United States the summer break lasts about 12 weeks and in Ireland, Italy, Lithuania and Russia, summer holidays normally last three months!

Is it a good idea to reduce the number of holidays?

Head teachers in the UK argue teachers and children benefit from school holidays. Children have important experiences over the summer, developing their own ways to fill the time, often engaging in valuable new activities and interests. The holidays can provide an opportunity for them to develop their social and communication skills outside of the familiar school environment.

As for teachers there’s the increasing problem of teacher recruitment, as well as finding time for them to fulfil their professional development responsibilities and prepare for the year. All this suggests that maybe a long holiday is just what exhausted teachers and jaded students need. As a slightly biased former teacher with 30 years in the classroom, I would of course have to agree.

So how can youngsters be safely, productively and affordably entertained throughout the long summer holiday?

In the United States, with longer school breaks than Britain and typically, less holiday leave for working parents, residential summer camps provide a home-from-home and a chance for children to develop their confidence and learn new skills. The UK already has a multitude of similar organisations providing exciting summer activities but these are often costly. So if we follow this route, who pays? Without some state support less privileged children would probably miss out. On the other hand, the idea of state support for summer camps would likely be rejected by those who fear more taxation or state intervention in education. In the meantime we can all look forward to the half-term break. However you plan to spend 29th October to 2nd November, it is probably wise to start planning now!