Alison Brace reports on the apparently unstoppable march of the six-term year and its impact on work - and leisure
THE years of bluster about the merits of changing the school calendar seem to be over bar a few local difficulties. The three-term year could be on its way out.
At least two of this Easter's teacher union conferences will debate it once again, but in the coming weeks more councils will join the 20 who have signed up, in principle, to a six-term year.
The Local Government Association, which set up a commission to look at standardising the school year, recommends a six-term year and term dates are being finalised for 2005 and beyond.
Medway council, in Kent, is the only one considering a five-term year after consultation found it to be the preferred option.
Changes to the school year will revolutionise not only the working lives and holidaying habits of teachers but of almost everyone else too.
Fleur Young, LGA school year project officer, said: "So many things are dependent on the school year. A manufacturer of football boots rang asking when the six-term year was going to happen and for the dates. He needed to know peak periods and to set his working rosters around them.
"Multiply that across the school uniform sector and you realise what an impact it will have."
Then there are the bus companies running school services, catering companies providing food and the corner shops selling sweets and magazines.
Museums and art galleries, cinemas, theatres and festivals will be affected as they gear their programmes to the pattern of the school year.
The LGA recommends a two-week break in April which is not tied to Easter and, ideally, another in October which could see holidaymakers still able to find guaranteed sun.
However, there is no danger of the long summer holiday being lost: with a six-term year it would still be five weeks and one day long. In a five-term year it would only be four weeks.
But Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "The break between the fourth and fifth term has to be fixed, otherwise chaos will ensue. If we go down this route, they will have to nationalise the holidays."
Proposed term dates 20034
September 3 - October 22
November 3 - December 19
January 5 - February 13
February 23 - April 2
April 19 - May 28
June 7 - July 16
Authorities which have decided in principle to adopt a six-term year: Derbyshire, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Lincolnshire, NE Lincolnshire, Southampton, Thurrock, Birmingham, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, Kent, Somerset, Corporation of London and the London boroughs of Camden, Croydon, Enfield, Hounslow, Sutton, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.