Wednesday, March 5, 2014
The traditional six-week school summer holiday could become a thing of the past as Norfolk headteachers debate moving to a six-term school year.
The idea, which if adopted could come into effect as early as September 2015, is being considered by the recently-restructured Norfolk Secondary Education Leaders (NSEL) association, which includes 52 of the county’s 54 high schools.
Last week secretary of state for education Michael Gove said it was wrong for parents to take children out of school to take advantage of cheaper holidays, and urged parents to put pressure on schools to use their powers to change term dates to let pupils go on holiday at different times.
Norfolk education leaders said the total number of holidays in a year would remain the same, but they would be distributed more evenly throughout the year, with four weeks during the summer, and two-week holidays between terms.
George Denby, headteacher of Caister High School and chairman of NSEL, said: “It makes sense that we get a collective agreement and look at changing the structure of the school year. Perhaps we are looking at a five or six-term structure over the year.”
Parents have long complained about how much more travel companies charge them to go on holiday during school holidays.
The issue has risen up the political agenda as more parents are fined £60 for taking their children out of school to take advantage of cheaper holidays during term time.
Last week MPs debated an e-petition, signed by more the 170,000 people, urging the government to cap the amount that travel companies are allowed to increase the cost of holidays during school breaks.
However, business minister Jenny Willott said: “We feel that it is a commercial matter for the businesses concerned and that the Government should not intervene. It is not for the Government to dictate to any particular market how it should charge for its services, or to intervene unless there is evidence of market distortion or market failure.”
Education secretary of state Michael Gove accused holiday companies of “attempting to essentially fleece parents”.
He added: “Schools now have the freedom to change their term dates in order to allow students and families the opportunity to go on holiday at different times. My own view is that the holiday industry needs to ask if it is doing enough.”
He added: “It should enable people to have cheaper holidays more frequently. One of the things we face in the coastal regions is that parents work extremely hard in the summer period and then of course they want their holiday, and this might help lessen that problem for them, where they get two weeks in October where they can legitimately take a two-week holiday.”
The current two-week holiday over Easter, which changes dates every year, would instead become a four-day holiday covering Good Friday to Easter Monday only.
Parents and teachers would be consulted before any change to the school year was made.
The re-examination of the school year is being linked to a reassessment of how schools manage pupils’ transition from primary to secondary school. A questionnaire about that has been sent to all schools.
Rob Anthony, senior associate head at the Hewett School in Norwich, sits on the working party examining the structure of the school year and said pupils missing a week or two from school to go on holiday was a “real problem” because they fell behind the rest of their class.
He said the discussions were at a very early stage, and added: “If we can find a model that’s better than we have then the idea is that everyone moves to that model, as it would be hard for an individual school to say ‘We don’t like that model, we are not going to do it’.”
However, Pete Waters, brand manager for Visit Norfolk, warned a shorter summer break could damage the region’s tourist industry.
He said: “The less holiday time there is for families during the months when Britain has a good chance of sun, the more detrimental it will be to the domestic visitor economy.
“Family holidays and trips are very weather dependent, and people are now more likely to wait until nearer the time before making their decision. So if the weather is predicted to be poor, there is every chance families will look to destinations where they can guarantee sun, and that means abroad.”