Five terms would give us all a break

12th January 1996 at 00:00
On the 12th day of the Christmas holiday, my husband said to me: "Thank goodness I am beginning to feel fit enough to get on with things again. Pity about the parts of my life that I've not been well enough to get on with during the holiday, but at least I can go back to school tomorrow."

In the 1960s we used to have 19 days' holiday at Christmas and Easter. Now my children get 13. It did not take me many terms of being married to a teacher to realise that if he did not actually get away from home during every half-term break, he would be ill enough to have to take several days off school before the end of the term.

It seems to me daft that we continue to have such long school terms with inadequate breaks between them for adults and children to recover from the stress. We then stop completely for almost half a term in the summer, losing any sense of rhythm and continuity.

It would be far better to divide the school terms more equally throughout the year. The idea does get discussed, but nothing has improved yet and in the meantime staff and students continue to suffer stressful term-ends, exhaustion through most of their holiday and, in the summer, parents who are not teachers have horrendous child-minding problems - ah yes, that other passion of mine - we should recognise schools for the excellent child-minding they do and pay them appropriately (which is more than they are paid merely to educate).

My preferred option for the arrangement of the school terms is to have five terms each of eight weeks duration with four two-week and one four-week holidays. These could be fixed from year to year, which would give teachers a bonus of bank holidays the same as everyone else, instead of having them hidden in their recuperation and revitalisation time.

The five terms fit quite nicely into the school and calendar years.

Let's start with a full two weeks holiday at Christmas arranged to give people enough time to sober up and get home after the new year drinks. This gives us a term of four weeks in January and four in February, with the first two weeks in March for the holiday. Then a nice spring term with two weeks in March, four in April and two in May to finish the coursework and revision, and three of those weeks "short" because of the Easter and May day bank holidays. The exam and national test term will run for a week at the end of May, all of June and three weeks in July, with one "short" week for the Whit bank holiday. A four-week summer holiday brings us back to school for the last week of August through September to the middle of October. A two-week holiday will give new pupils time to recover to enjoy the eight-week term, building up to Christmas with plays and concerts and the like.

It's not actually too radically different from the present pattern, but I am sure it will result in far greater enthusiasm and better health, particularly at Christmas, than we now have at the end of the depressingly long autumn term.

The spring and summer terms will remain at sensible lengths instead of waxing and waning as Easter moves. There will be a more clearly defined period for essential course work to be sorted out which will be invaluable for those 15 and 16-year-olds who have not imbibed work planning along with the necessary facts and figures.

And I am sure that with two weeks my husband will recover from an eight-week term in time to get down to all things he saves up to do in the holidays. He will then begin each new term with a feeling of well-being which will be better both for his students and his family.

HILARY CHIVALL

37 Church Street Whittlesey Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

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