The Local Government Association did ask the NFER to collect information on school-term dates in England and Wales but for some reason it looked at what happens in Canada. The situation there is totally different with a very long summer break and only short holidays during the year and no half-term breaks.
Critics of the LGA plans persist in misunderstanding them. There is no bid to shorten the present five to six-week summer break and it may well be slightly longer in many areas. The key aim is to even up the six teaching blocks, have a longer October break and reduce the stress that will be caused, for instance, in 2005 when most LEAs have decided on a 16-week summer term due to an early Easter.
The new arrangements will involve the UK Youth Parliament, parent and governor groups, staff unions, and other interested parties in agreeing dates.
The structure of the school year does have an effect on standards. Leigh college in Dartford has had the six-term year for some years now and both students and staff gave evidence of how it was a factor in their much-improved examination results.
The NFER might have looked at the school year in Scotland, instead of the United States to see if any lessons could be learnt. More than 70 per cent of LEAs are now moving towards the new pattern in 20056 and then it will be possible quickly to see if it does have any effect on attendance or improving standards.
Parents have indicated more predictability over the school year would help them make childcare arrangements and staff absence is less in schools that adopted the five-term year as teaching is in more equal blocks of time.
The LGA went in the end for a six-term approach because of the support that it had among the many people who were consulted including teachers, parents and students.
It is not as revolutionary as some claim but subtly more different than others say it is. The present uneven system did not maximise teaching before examinations and produced much more variation in the country than had been realised.
Councillor Graham Lane
Newham town hall
East Ham, London E6