Holiday break? Don't count on it

8th January 1999 at 00:00
The first year flies past. So does the first summer holiday, promises Lindsay Thomas

We've all heard it: "Teachers only work part time, they get three months' holiday a year and they still complain." From about the middle of October, teachers start looking forward to the summer holidays. By February this has taken on a more practical note - jobs are being filed away in the "I'll have plenty of time for that in August" drawer of our minds.

By my reckoning, we have about 40 days of freedom, but it takes a week or so to catch up on sleep and generally wind down. And there are those household tasks that invariably have been allowed to slide in the last few weeks of term. That means a day for cleaning and a morning to ring around washing machine, vacuum cleaner and dishwasher repairers. And we might as well write off two days waiting for repairs to be done.

But now is the time to turn your thoughts to health. Book appointments with doctors and dentists to sort out all those niggly things that you didn't think merited the attention during term time. By the time you have hung around in waiting rooms reading cookery articles, you've used up another day.

Before you can even think about work you have to sort out the study and rediscover its floor. Two days gone, if you do it thoroughly, plus another morning carting all the out-of-date Department for Education circulars to the tip.

Your virgin planner is about to come of age. You spend a day filling in the group lists and calendar pages, then copy your timetable into your diary and, just for good measure, you make a neat copy for the study wall.

About the middle of August you generally have to spend another day cannibalising old diaries for the timetable pages and exercising considerable skills with the correction fluid. Why? Because a radically different timetable has arrived from a frantic deputy head who has just got the software fixed and has realised Year 10 had 25 hours of PE. You recover by taking a day to watch all the television programmes you videoed because you were at prize-givings, retirement events and leavers' parties.

Obviously you have social obligations. There's bound to be a wedding to attend, usually somewhere at least 200 miles away (two days, plus an afternoon looking for a present). There'll be a day and a half's worth of barbecues where you'll be rained into the living room, and you'll spend two days dropping people off at airports and waiting for delayed flights.

A few jobs around the house have been craving attention for months now. There's painting and decorating (four days), but before that you have to make some interior design decisions. Spend two days comparing colour charts. It's only fair that you give the same amount of time to your garden, so you use another 72 hours laying patios and mowing lawns.

Now comes the round of duty visits to ageing relatives. Allow the best part of four days.

It would be nice to get the work out of the way before you jet off to warmer climes, so you hit the desk. You discover you've left a vital piece of paper at school - half a day to retrieve it. Down to the serious stuff. You respond to government consultation documents (half day) and finish off the administration work left over from the end of term (one day). You break off to go in for both GCSE and A-level results (two days assuming you don't have to do the analysis of the results).

Pared down to a minimum, your preparation and resource production is going to take about a day for each year group, so the average secondary teacher is looking at seven full days, providing your printer doesn't break down.

All the dirty work out of the way, you can head off for two weeks of sunning yourself with a clear conscience, knowing all you have to do on your return is catch up on your correspondence and read all the new books on the set text list.

Well you would, except that according to my maths you've already had 47 days off and missed the first week of term. How are you going to get it all done? I suppose there's always next summer . . .

Lindsey Thomas teaches English at The Lord Grey School, Bletchley

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