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Poll nails holiday myth

The myth of the six-week summer break for teachers is laid to rest this week in a poll by the TES Cymru.

We asked a mixture of headteachers and teachers how long they would be off duty this summer. Almost 90 of the 100 respondents said they would be back at work within a month.

Few, if any, teachers enjoyed six weeks off and many - particularly heads of smaller primaries - took a bare fortnight's leave. Some heads went so far as to say they would never be off duty.

Most secondary teachers (92 per cent) said they would be back in mid-August because of exam results and preparing for the new term.

"I take the first two weeks off, then I'm back in school gearing up for the exam results," said Steve Ballinger, head of sixth form at Brecon High School in Powys.

One head said he went abroad to distance himself from work. "My wife insists on it - if we don't, I'm still on call," he said.

Another said he could never escape. "I've had work-related calls on top of a Spanish mountain," he said. "Getting out of the country doesn't get you out of work."

Primary teachers in particular said their summers were filled with non-teaching duties.

Many spoke of the time required to "clear the decks" and plan for the year ahead. Others said the break was used for strategic work and maintenance.

"I've got commitments throughout the holiday," said Eluned Davies, head of Bangor primary school Ysgol Rhiwlas. "There's the piano tuning and the roof needs doing. Last year it was the blinds. There's something every week."

The TES Cymru also questioned teachers on their holiday plans and whether they believed rising living costs justified parents taking their children during term time.

Half of the respondents had planned a foreign holiday, despite a below-inflation pay rise this year. But 18 per cent said financial concerns had played a part in their decision to stay at home. Caravanning holidays in Britain were popular among those polled.

Most teachers had sympathy for parents struggling financially over the holidays. But almost half said they should be banned from taking their children out of school for a term-time holiday. One head said he simply rubber-stamped requests.

"The flights are already booked," he said.

Most teachers did not object to children being out for one or two days, but said one or two weeks could be detrimental to education.

"I think the disruption is considerable," said one head. "But I can understand why parents do it because the costs are so high."

Julia Horton, a teacher at Bryn Hafren Comprehensive in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, said: "I'm a parent and I wouldn't dream of taking my children out of school. I think it's appalling."

One head, who asked not to be named, said he had argued with Estyn on this issue.

He said: "I've told them, what am I supposed to do? Stand at the departure gate?"

Leader, page 20.

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