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Five-term year badly planned, says union

Evidence used to back changes in the school year is inconclusive and irrelevant, says the ATL. Karen Thornton reports

MOVES to a five-term year have been "ill- thought-through" and are unlikely to produce educational benefits on their own, according to the third-largest teaching union.

In a report out today, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers says how and what children are taught is more important than when they are taught it.

The union questions the evidence used to back the five-term school year, saying the example of city technology colleges is inconclusive. It claims that some of the highest-achieving CTCs have three-term years, while one of the lowest achieving is on five terms.

The union also criticises go-it-alone schools, arguing that decisions should be made at education authority level.

Its report challenges other arguments for changing the timetable. For example, evidence about summer learning loss comes mainly from the United States and may not be applicable here as schools generally have shorter summer breaks than their US counterparts.

Peter Smith, general secretary of the ATL, said: "There seems to be an over-eagerness from some quarters who believe that introducing such ill-thought-through schemes will elevate their positioning in the league tables.

"Disruptions in education on such a scale will inevitably put even more pressure on pupils and teachers. Raising standards in education stretches well beyond when pupils are taught. It is about what and how children are taught and learn."

The report summarises the arguments for and against changing the school year, and recommends widespread consultation in advance of any decisions. It cautions against individual schools "going it alone." Instead, decisions should be made by local education authorities, because of the knock-on effects of timetabling decisions on parents, staff and other schools.

Several councils have consulted on five-term years, and one - East Sussex - has decided to stick with the status quo, after the majority of respondents opposed the move.

But a handful of CTCs have been running the system for several years. Two other schools - grant-maintained Greensward secondary in Hockley, Essex, and Woodlands primary in Grimsby - will make the change in September.

Changing the Pattern of the School Year is available from the ATL, telephone 0207 782 1584.

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