Fight for six-week holiday could end with the sack

Strikes threatened as Nottingham plans to adopt a five-term year

Stephen Exley

The incentives of a six-week summer break and relative job security have long been dangled before potential teaching recruits. But in Nottingham, such perks of the job could soon be consigned to the history books.

The city looks set to turn into an industrial relations battleground as it becomes the first local authority in the country to propose switching all its schools from the traditional three-term year to a five-term structure.

While Westminster education secretary Michael Gove is in favour of a shorter summer break, many teachers in Nottingham are fiercely opposed to the move, which would affect 1,700 teachers at more than 70 maintained schools. In a ballot by the NUT union, 88 per cent of members voted in favour of strike action; the NASUWT is preparing to follow suit.

But the Labour-led council is sticking to its guns. If the unions refuse to sign up to a collective agreement to alter the contracts of more than 4,200 employees, it says, they will be sacked and then offered a new contract under the altered terms. The message is clear: agree to the changes or you will be out of a job.

Under the proposal, the summer holiday would be cut to four weeks, with two-week breaks in October, December, March and May. The move would, the local authority argues, raise attainment and attendance, as shorter, more equal terms "can help children to be more motivated and less tired".

It also believes that the move would mean pupils "are less likely to forget what they have learned . over a shorter summer holiday". Parents would benefit, the council suggests, from being able to spread holidays more evenly throughout the year, avoiding peak summer prices.

With a consultation period still ongoing, NUT regional secretary Ian Stevenson lashed out at the "aggressive" move by the authority to issue a formal notice, outlining its plans to dismiss staff who do not agree to the contract change without awarding them any redundancy money.

"It doesn't make sense legally or practically," Mr Stevenson said. "For the recruitment of teachers, it will create havoc." The NUT has offered to cover the pay of any of its members who go on strike.

Graham Byers, the NASUWT's Nottingham branch secretary, insists that it, too, is prepared to take industrial action. "Teachers have mortgages to pay; it's a bullying tactic. They are not listening to the professionals," he said. "Recruitment and retention will plummet. A lot of teachers are saying that they are going to leave.

"They are experimenting with the lives of a whole cohort of children. At the end of term, we're already finding that children - especially those in the foundation stage and key stage 1 - are tired and getting ill. We will have that happening five times over. And exams will take place in May, when teachers should be on holiday in the new system."

Mr Byers added that the change would inconvenience teachers whose own children are schooled outside the city.

The move has been partially inspired by the success of the Djanogly City Academy in Nottingham, which already operates on a five-term model.

Factors in favour

According to Nottingham City Council, a five-term school year will:

raise attendance and achievement, as shorter and more equal blocks of learning time can mean children are more motivated and less tired;

raise achievement, because pupils are less likely to forget what they have learned or get out of the habit of learning over a shorter summer holiday;

allow better planning and delivery of the curriculum, because terms will be of more equal length;

offer flexibility, allowing family holidays to be taken outside the peak summer period and giving everyone a greater chance to save on holiday costs. Importantly, this could reduce the number of holidays taken during school time.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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