No one helps with the harvest any more

21st July 2006 at 01:00
For Cheryl Heron the six-term year has not gone far enough.

"The only differences we have noticed are the silly start dates and term ending early in the week," says Mrs Heron, head of the 1,000-pupil Bridgemary community sports college in Gosport, Hampshire.

These extra days are the ones which Hampshire council hopes schools will use for their five training days. But because of the way they fall, Mrs Heron feels staff cannot derive maximum benefit from them.

"You cannot get quality continuing professional development at the end of term because staff are just so tired," she says.

So now the school is looking to be even more radical. It wants to introduce a 364 days-a-year, 247 timetable.

The school has been in discussion with the Department for Education and Skills innovation unit to see if it could run a pilot project. Staff expect to hear in September whether they are likely to get the go-ahead. The school is already innovative: it has been running an ability not age-related curriculum for a year.

Mrs Heron argues that the traditional year was established to tie in with the lifestyles of children a century ago, when they were needed to help with the harvest in the summer.

"We want the timetable to fit with lifestyles today," she says. "We all know that adolescents do not respond well at 8 o'clock in the morning but do at 11 o'clock.

"We also now have kids who are better e-learners and kids who look after their siblings.

"And yet schools are forever punishing children for turning up late. We have to understand that there are other things that prevent children from learning."

Children, by law, have to attend 380 half-day sessions at school. Nowhere does it say that the school year should start in September. The idea would be to offer flexible learning for pupils and flexible hours for staff all year round - a plan which would be rolled out in stages.

Mrs Heron said: "We need to stop messing around with the edges of historic timetabling and make big changes.

"If you want to deliver true flexibility, personalise learning and meet community needs as the Government wants us to do, then you need a 364 days-a-year 247 school year."

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