A member of the Government's national remodelling team is to ask his staff if they fancy the idea of a 364-day year. Michael Shaw reports.
The idea of a school where teachers can be found in classrooms all year round might seem like a bizarre fantasy or nightmare. But Paul Mortimer has the connections to make a 364-day school a reality and a history of introducing radical changes to timetables.
His main job is as executive head, or chief executive, of Hollingworth school and Oulder Hill community school in Rochdale, which have their own full-time headteachers.
He spends a day a week working with the Department for Education and Skills' innovation unit and has been a "thought leader" on the national remodelling team Dr Mortimer said his proposal to timetable lessons during holidays and weekends at Hollingworth was a logical extension of the Government's drive to create extended schools, where the community can use a school's facilities all year round.
Handily, he is on the steering group which is overseeing the extended schools side of the Government's Building Schools for the Future programme, through which Hollingworth would be rebuilt.
Dr Mortimer intends to discuss the idea of a 364-day year with teaching staff on Monday. He promises to take their views and those of parents into account before making any changes in 2008. Teachers and pupils would still attend for 190 days a year.
"Teachers at Hollingworth will be given further details of the proposal," said Dr Mortimer.
Colin Burnett, Hollingworth headteacher, said that a less radical form of staggered weeks had been successfully used in Lancashire and Yorkshire towns between the 1920s and 1990s, because it allowed families to take summer breaks at different times.
"We are an open-minded school and we have been at the forefront of change - we aren't afraid of new ideas," he said.
"I'm sure some teachers would find working weekends and taking breaks during the week very helpful although it will depend on individual circumstances. We haven't gone through all the details yet and the Devil is always in the detail."
He believes his proposals would improve attendance and give pupils a more individual education. "Where you have smaller schools and greater flexibility then you can have teachers working with smaller groups," he said.
He recently led a group of headteachers on a trip to Hong Kong, where limited space has led pairs of schools to share sites. He has also been inspired by schools in America, which have developed "schools within schools". Pupils at the rebuilt Hollingworth would learn in mixed-age groups, an approach that Bridgemary community school in Gosport introduced last month.
Dr Mortimer is no stranger to controversy about timetables. Teachers were sceptical when he introduced "flexitime" to Edge End school in Lancashire 16 years ago, making the day end later on Mondays and Tuesdays and earlier on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Dr Mortimer was also one of the first heads to employ non-teaching staff as cover supervisors. He avoided publicising the initiative when he introduced it five years ago, predicting a negative reaction from unions.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said that the 364-day year was "an interesting idea which schools may wish to explore as they become more extended".
"A phased year would involve very careful planning and it might be more difficult to create the whole-community ethos which many schools value," he said.
The National Union of Teachers said teachers would be highly resistant to working weekends and to taking holidays at different times. John Bangs, NUT head of education, said: "It is a utopian vision, but it doesn't fit the reality of the working lives of teachers and parents."
The DfES said it wanted headteachers to make greater use of their powers to innovate and that they should consult parents before making major changes.
However, teachers are no strangers to thinking about work during the festive season. The DfES and the Qualification and Curriculum Authority have reported hits on their websites from teachers on Christmas and Boxing Day.