Back to school for the holidays

10th September 2004 at 01:00
How have you spent this summer? And have you given any thought as to how your pupils might have spent their break?

Don't be ashamed if your answer is "no." When I was teaching I was glad to have survived the year and be able to escape. The holiday passes in a flash for teachers, but the six weeks can drag by for many pupils. While some parents joke of dreading the holiday, many mean it: they may not be able to take time off, or have the money - or inclination - to amuse their kids.

Should schools do anything about this? I believe they should, simply because they have a wealth of facilities that could provide activities to keep pupils safely entertained for the summer. Yet these facilities mostly stand empty for six weeks, and children are left with nothing to do and nowhere to go.

I work in an Excellence in Cities area and left teaching this year to work as a full-time learning mentor. Colleagues were horrified when I said I no longer got holidays off, but this has been a rewarding summer spent with pupils doing things for fun.

Our school, like most, is open to staff in the summer and we make use of this. With funding from the behaviour improvement programme and the behaviour and education support team, we have offered music sessions for a new band; gardening on the school site; sports using the sports hall; outings to a swimming centre, bowling alley, cinema and fairground; visits to the countryside using the school minibus; and work days in school for Years 10 and 11.

Nothing particularly exciting: the important thing is that activities are offered. Many involve team work designed to build skills for working successfully in the classroom. For example, pupils have to buy items on a tight budget and cook meals for each other. Many spend time with peers outside their group and new friendships are formed. Adults get involved.

Pupils see us as human and relate better to us for it. We build up a trust which means they are more comfortable opening up to us about their problems.

Children are reluctant to come to school in the holidays at first. Like teachers, they want to get out at the end of term. Those who do, enjoy themselves and behave well because they want to be there. And usually come back the next time.

Every school, no matter where, has students who would benefit from school facilities during the summer. I feel good about the fact that those who have come along have got something out of it. They haven't spent every moment in bored frustration. Parents tell us that they appreciate our efforts. The children don't need to say it - we can tell - but they do anyway.

Tracey Johnson

Tracey Johnson was a secondary school English teacher before becoming a learning mentor. She now works full-time at the Norton secondary school in Stockton-on-Tees

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