Councils shun St Andrew's holiday option

26th November 2010 at 00:00
Only four authorities will close schools to mark day of nation's patron saint, survey reveals

Four years after legislation was passed to make St Andrew's Day a national holiday, just four local authorities have decided to give pupils the day off to celebrate Scotland's patron saint, The TESS can reveal.

A survey has shown that only Angus, Dumfries and Galloway, Renfrewshire and Scottish Borders councils plan to mark the occasion by closing schools. Renfrewshire is led by the SNP, the party which introduced the legislation; the others are led by coalition administrations with no Nationalists, which suggests that enthusiasm for a St Andrew's Day holiday is not influenced by political allegiances.

Other authorities say there is no public support to make November 30 a holiday.

The findings coincided with a debate yesterday in the Scottish Parliament calling for more public bodies to acknowledge St Andrew's Day as a full public holiday.

SNP Central Scotland MSP John Wilson, who led the debate, said: "It is unfortunate that many public bodies and other organisations still do not view St Andrew's Day as a full national holiday. In the current climate many people may be unwilling to ask for the time to celebrate St Andrew's Day. That is why I want to see employers and public organisations take the lead."

Legislation to make St Andrew's Day a national holiday was passed unanimously by the Parliament four years ago.

In any school year, pupils must attend for 190 days and teachers work for 195. If councils opt to make St Andrew's Day a school holiday, they have to cancel a holiday elsewhere in the school calendar.

In SNPLiberal Democrat-run Aberdeen City Council, moving an existing holiday or making St Andrew's Day an in-service day for teachers was mooted. Parents and staff were unenthusiastic, however, with fewer than a third of those consulted backing either choice.

The authority also discovered through a more informal consultation involving headteachers and parent councils a feeling that St Andrew's Day would be better celebrated in school and that a holiday could become "just another day off".

Labour-led Glasgow City Council also opted not to declare St Andrew's Day a holiday. Instead, pupils would be encouraged to celebrate the occasion in school with their teachers and classmates, a spokeswoman said.

SNP-led East Ayrshire, meanwhile, found little support for the closure when it consulted with schools and trades unions about moving an existing school holiday.

In January last year, the then Education Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, wrote to council education conveners, formally asking them to follow the Scottish Government's example and make St Andrew's Day a school holiday. This would send a signal that they "cherished" and "valued" Scotland's national identity, she said, and would allow pupils and staff to celebrate "in a way that they feel is most appropriate to them".

Education Secretary Michael Russell said he was "delighted" four councils had given pupils the day off but, like Ms Hyslop, he was keen to see the holiday introduced more widely.

The TESS's own correspondent, Morris Simpson, however, has little time for the St Andrew's Day holiday, describing it in last week's edition as causing "much staffroom irritation for its theft of a day from our summer vacation".

emma.seith@tes.co.uk.

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