Give us a break, we need the long holiday

10th October 2014 at 01:00
Six weeks of summer rest may seem excessive to some, but it's a privilege that teachers cherish - and depend on to do their jobs

Remember the summer holidays? Just about? As we find ourselves in the middle of the never-ending autumn term, it is worth taking a minute to be thankful for the long summer break most of us so enjoyed.

I spent the first part of it sunning myself in Nice, the next part trekking through the New Forest with my family and friends, and many lazy days in between watching Test cricket of varying quality. And these were just a few of my escapades over the blissful six weeks of rest.

We are privileged in this profession to have such an extended break, yet this privilege is under attack from all sides. A variety of concerns, such as loss of learning or the cost of childcare and foreign travel (among many, many others), are offered up as arguments against the long summer holiday.

One of the most emotive of those arguments is about the effect on underprivileged children, who, many argue, have precious little access to positive life experiences during the extended break. Their learning is likely to suffer, it is said, after spending six weeks aimlessly wandering the streets or playing computer games with the curtains closed while their ill-educated parents do nothing to stimulate their brains.

Leaving aside the snobbery and stereotyping inherent in this argument, it must be accepted that a genuine issue exists for some children, albeit a small minority of them. But surely the answer is for society to provide opportunities for disadvantaged children during the summer break rather than to take that break away from everyone.

If we think that the life experiences enjoyed by privileged children during the summer holidays have a positive impact on them (and I definitely do), then our aim should surely be to extend such experiences to all rather than finding ways to take them away from every child. This "race to the bottom" mentality is not only depressing but deeply regressive.

The long holidays are undoubtedly beneficial for children's development and personal growth. They offer vital adventures on the journey from child to adult. The summer can be a time to experience travel, to socialise with family and friends, or to read books, watch films and play outdoors. It is also a time when children can be unsupervised, free from adult control and maybe even get into some minor mischief. All of these things, by the way, are key experiences in the development of autonomous individuals.

This is a deeply unfashionable idea but it is one that we would do well to reflect upon when recalling our own adolescences and the effects such experiences had on us. In addition, the holidays act as a rite of passage - marking the end of one academic year and the start of a new phase. They allow a fresh start for everyone and a welcome chance to turn over a new leaf for those who need it.

Fresh outlook

As well as being good for our students, the holidays are good for teachers, too. During term-time we have little room in our timetables to really reflect on our teaching, but the long break allows us to mentally reset, critically examine the past year's work and return with a fresh perspective. I, like many of my colleagues, do much of my best planning towards the end of the holidays and in the first few weeks of term, primarily because I am able to approach it with a fresh pair of eyes.

The long break also allows us to recharge our batteries. Of course, the non-teachers reading this will be screaming, "We all need that too, you know!" It is certainly true that everyone needs a break, but I think the nature of the job makes our need especially pressing.

I say this because when teachers are at their best, they are filled with enthusiasm and passion for the job. They drive learning with energy, purpose and a smile - and that is bloody hard to do when you are knackered and haven't had a decent break in ages.

In many professions, you can turn up to work in a bad mood but get through a tough morning by shutting the office door and cracking on with the job. That's not an option in a classroom full of children. I'm sure the parents of those students want the teachers to be firing on all cylinders as often as is humanly possible, and a proper break is a big part of making that happen.

Every profession has its swings and roundabouts, its array of benefits and drawbacks. Society seems determined to drive wedges between professions by attacking the privileges of each in the name of fairness, whether these belong to bankers, journalists, doctors, politicians or teachers.

Some of those attacks are more justified than others, but I suspect that a number of gripes about teachers' holidays stem from a sense of injustice felt by people who do not enjoy similar benefits. But the fact is that it is logical for different professions to have differing working practices. And nowhere is this truer than when it comes to the long summer holidays.

Tom Finn-Kelcey is head of politics at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School in Faversham, Kent

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