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A happier new school year?

Inquiry team's report proposes shorter holidays more often - with no more

long terms. Amanda Kelly reports

AN independent inquiry team today called for the school year to change dramatically to accommodate a new six-term structure with exams beginning in April to avoid peak hay fever season.

In a report that was cautiously welcomed by teaching unions, the commission on terms and holidays, set up by the Local Government Association, also suggests starting the six-week summer break in July to take advantage of better weather and longer days.

Initial ideas of shortening the summer recess were abandoned for fear of upsetting teachers and adding to the profession's recruitment and retention crisis.

But the possibility of staggering the holiday by region to help the tourism industry should be explored, the report said. And a two-week Easter break should be fixed, instead of being dependent on when Easter Sunday falls each year, the report recommends.

The last of the six new and roughly equal-length terms could be devoted to "cultural activities" and teaching programmes to counteract "learning loss" among pupils over the long break.

It also proposes that real, rather than predicted A-level grades, should be used for university applications to encourage students who do better than they had hoped for to continue their studies and to reduce the administrative burden on education bodies.

Headed by Chris Price, a former Labour chairman of the Commons education select committee, the inquiry team reached its conclusions after hearing evidence from teachers, the travel industry, employers and parents.

The current three-term system suits the annual cycleof harvests and religious holidays, but the demands of exam courses and the childcare needs of working parents are among factors that have increasingly led to calls for reform.

Although initial proposals for a five-term year with a shorter summer break were fiercely opposed by teaching unions, today's report was broadly welcomed.

Eamonn O'Kane, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "The one key point we all wanted to drum home to the inquiry was the importance of giving teachers and pupils a decent break over the summer so we are very pleased to see they have listened to us."

However, Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said most parents were against altering the summer holiday at all.

"There don't seem to be many good reasons for changing it.

"Having the exams earlier may be a good idea as long as the results come out early too, so they are not hanging over children for the whole of the summer."

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment said: "The Government is not seeking to change the duration of school terms. This is a matter for individual LEAs and schools."

The report will now be put out for consultation.

Platform, 13

COMMITTEE'S MAIN RECOMMENDATIONS

1: Six roughly equal terms

2: A fixed two-week Spring break

3: Summer holiday from July until mid-August, to take

advantage of better weather

4: Staggering summer holidays to support tourism

5: GCSEs, A-levels in April-May, to help hay-fever sufferers

6: Final term for 'cultural activities', preparation for next year

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