Eternal summer under a cloud

5th March 1999 at 00:00
TEACHERS WHO bask for weeks on end in the Mediterranean sunshine or go native at a rustic gite among the olive groves of Provence could be in for a summer holiday shock, writes David Henderson.

The seven-week break - a treasured benefit - is under threat from moves to shake up the school year in England and North America. Research into the five-term year deployed by city technology colleges in England shows overwhelming support for shortening summer holidays to four weeks and creating four two-week breaks in an evenly spread year. Teachers say it cuts classroom stress and improves learning.

Aberdeen is already consulting on changing the school calendar and this week the city's council invited Trevor Kerry of the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside to brief councillors, schools and parents.

Professor Kerry, the leading UK researcher on alternative school calendars, said that in England more than three in four teachers in technology colleges would prefer five eight-week terms. The overall length of the school year would remain the same.

"Teachers like the fact that they can modularise the curriculum and parents like the evenness of the year. The youngsters say it is more manageable. If you ask them, they say long summer holidays are boring. In modularising the curriculum, teachers use seven weeks as teaching time and the eighth week for assessment," Professor Kerry said.

Research in the United States, where 3 million students are on a year-round calendar, found that learning loss was cut substantially by having shorter summer holidays. Pupils from disadvantaged homes and communities benefit.

According to some parents, the downside of a revised school year is the difficulty that about 10 per cent of them would have in planning holidays around school breaks. A small number also report childcare problems.

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