Those of us who work in schools will be familiar with off-the-cuff comments about the amount of holiday we’re entitled to. We would have either ignored the question or explained through slightly gritted teeth exactly why those 13 weeks are vital for our mental and physical health and also for the wellbeing of the children in our care.
But how do schools decide how those 13 weeks are spread out over the course of the year? And what happens if a school decides it wants to change those dates?
In England, local authority maintained schools must open for at least 380 sessions (190 days) during a school year. Term dates are determined by school employers.
The local authority is the employer for community, voluntary-controlled, community special or maintained nursery schools. For foundation, voluntary-aided and foundation special schools, the employer is the governing body. Academies, including free schools, set their own term dates and school day.
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Although foundation, voluntary-aided and foundation special schools have the freedom to set their own term dates, the governing bodies of these schools tend to adopt the same dates as the local authority.
Over the past few years, many academies have chosen to start the autumn term a week earlier and extend the October half-term to two weeks.
For new academies and free schools, these decisions are made when the school is first set up, so parents know what they are buying into from the moment they sign their children up to the school.
Extending the October half-term: key questions for schools to consider
However, an ever-increasing number of foundation and voluntary-aided schools are reconsidering term dates, especially in the wake of the pandemic, wanting to give staff and children a longer break in the October half-term.
If you’re a school leader considering extending the October half-term break to two weeks, there are a few things to consider before taking that step.
1. Be clear on your why
It’s important to be clear on why you’re making the change. Who is the change benefitting the most and what impact will it have on the overall running of the school?
Being clear on the why makes it easier to explain to all stakeholders and will enable you to stick to your guns when others are trying to dissuade you.
For example, selling the benefits to parents who may be worried about finding childcare for the extra week will be one of the areas that may be included in your why. Aspects such as cheaper holidays may be enough of a selling point to win some parents over.
The other thing to be clear about is why you’re making a change that is in opposition to what’s happening in the rest of your local authority. For parents who have children at other schools in the locality, the inconvenience of having one child on a two-week break and another on a one-week break may not make sense, so you have to be really clear on how this change will benefit them.
Whatever your reasons for making the change, it’s important to ensure that you’re doing it for the right reasons. Just because the school down the road has a two-week break in October, it doesn’t mean that’s what’s right for your school community.
2. Consider how your school terms will change
If you’re an academy, foundation, voluntary-aided or foundation special school and you wish to extend the October half-term by five days, you’ll need to tag those five days on somewhere else.
Some schools do this by starting the academic year five days earlier, opting to reopen at the end of August. Others will utilise their Inset days, choosing to hold Inset days (equivalent to six hours for every Inset day) as twilight sessions over the course of the year. Some schools may do a combination of the two.
3. Hold a consultation
Effective communication is the key to ensuring that changes are implemented smoothly. The more notice you’re able to give, the more palatable it will be to all concerned.
Ideally, a whole academic year should be given in order to make the changes. This gives you time to consult with staff, parents, governors and other local schools. It gives parents time to think about what they may need to put in place in order to ensure they’re ready for the changes, and it gives you time to communicate to staff how the changes will impact on their working weeks.
Depending on who you ask, the pros of moving to a two-week October half-term can outweigh the cons. As a school leader, you need to be fully aware of both sides of the argument so that you can provide the right support to those who need it most.
For more information, the House of Commons has a good briefing paper.
Amanda Wilson is a primary headteacher and tweets @AmandaWilson910