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Long summer to end?

Shorter terms and more breaks proposed to boost learning and cut teacher stress

Seven-week summer holidays - one of the last great traditions of Scottish education - could be on the way out. Aberdeen has become the first authority to question the division of the school year and may back shorter summer breaks.

As 50,000 Scottish teachers head back to school, the city is opening talks on reorganising the length of terms and holidays and admits there will be implications across the country.

Jon Mager, assistant director of education, said the school year could have shorter terms and more breaks although it would still be 190 days for pupils and 195 for teachers. The changeover would cut pupils' learning loss after the long summer holiday and ease teacher stress levels, Mr Mager said.

The council plans to set up a working group to investigate different patterns and is drawing heavily on research from the United States which confirms that pupils can lose up to three months' learning because of the run down to the holidays and the long break.

Ronnie Smith, the Educational Institute of Scotland's general secretary, warned that tampering with holidays would prove controversial and teachers would have mixed views.

"It would be important that any reform was genuinely grounded on educational considerations and not on issues of child care," Mr Smith said.

Scottish summer holidays were relatively short compared to others in Europe, and many teachers prepared for the new term during their break.

Maire Whitehead, vice-president of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland and a Glasgow primary head, welcomed a debate. "Children do regress and are smit by summer term amnesia. I would say most teachers do revision up until the September weekend," Mrs Whitehead said.

She believed teachers would have different views about the holidays but would not rule out changes. "If honesty and professionalism came into it, most people would accept they could do with shorter holidays in the summer," she stated.

Mr Mager said that behaviour patterns, particularly among younger pupils, were another factor in the arguments for change, along with teacher stress. "We believe long terms lead to more exclusions and grievances by teachers peak before exams and summer holidays," he said.

"Perhaps after experiencing one of the wettest summers in years, parents and pupils might be keen to see a change in the holiday pattern. There is bound to be disagreement. Ideally, each family would like their own holiday plans and we recognise that there has to be a balance between educational and childcare considerations."

He added: "If we can find ways of enhancing performance without significant financial inputs, it is very attractive."

Mr Mager believed school year reorganisation could be a matter for the Scottish parliament if a national consensus was needed. "This would transform the education system if implemented with full consultation," he said.

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