'Long summer holidays harm disadvantaged pupils - so scrap them'

Child poverty expert argues that the long summer break leaves poor children disengaged

Emma Seith

Poor children left isolated and hungry during outdated summer break

The long summer holiday – introduced a century ago because children were needed to help bring in the harvest – should be scrapped, an expert on child poverty has said.

Child food poverty policy adviser Lindsay Graham is calling for a “radical rethink” of the long summer break, arguing that it is “a travesty” that the holiday has been retained.

She says it allows disadvantaged children to become disengaged from “social support and the will to learn”, and “some of our best-equipped and most child-friendly community assets” to lie empty.

Ms Graham – who said that she has been raising the issue with Scottish civil servants for the past five years – said the issues that disadvantaged children had to deal with during the summer holidays went "way beyond having access to healthy food".

She said they became "isolated", had limited outside play or physical activity and "little of the ‘fun’ that other more privileged children might experience during the breaks".

As well as calling for a review of "the positioning and timings of school holidays", Ms Graham also suggested providing a holiday benefit to families with children on free school meals, akin to the winter fuel payment, to help cover extra costs.

Ms Graham made her comments in evidence to an inquiry into child poverty and attainment being conducted by the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee.

In a written submission requested by the MSPs leading the inquiry, she said: “I do respectfully suggest that a radical rethink of term times and the use of school premises is something the committee should consider.

"Our school holidays were set in motion over 100 years ago to suit timings with harvests. In a modern society, this is no longer the norm, yet we still have long holiday spells where children become disengaged from social support and the will to learn.

"We also have long periods when some of our best-equipped and most child-friendly community assets lie empty. I think that is a travesty and missed opportunity.”

Last year Tes Scotland revealed that holiday hunger led to a five-week learning lag for disadvantaged pupils.

The figures – uncovered by Northumbria University researchers – demonstrated the huge impact of unhealthy eating habits and hunger during the summer holidays, particularly among the country’s poorest children.

Already the Education Committee inquiry has heard about the limited experiences and opportunities that disadvantaged children have and the impact this has on their attainment.

The committee heard evidence last week from a Glasgow primary headteacher, Nancy Clunie, who said some of pupils had never seen the sea or visited a farm.

It has also heard that overly-elaborate and costly school uniforms were putting pressure on families living in poverty.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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