Revise this crazy plan

25th July 2003 at 01:00
Colin Padgett is unconvinced by extra lessons in the holidays

Dear assistant headteacher, I have received your recent letter informing me that you are organising holiday revision classes for exam students. I note that you wish me to "encourage" my son to attend as the classes are "valuable". Assuming I agree with the encroachment of the school curriculum on statutory holiday time, I am afraid any encouragement I might offer my son will be in vain as we will be on a family holiday on the continent and the daily journey would be prohibitively expensive.

The arrangements which you have made do cause me some concern and I would be grateful if you could offer some answers to a few questions.

First, I wonder whether you have taken into account any likely psychological impact on students who are unable to attend. The children for whom you are making these arrangements are 13 years old.

Do you think it possible that these lessons could actually create unnecessary stress for both the attenders and non-attenders at a time when support of a more universally reassuring kind might be more appropriate?

Second, although I appreciate that you are making these arrangements to cope with a perceived educational need, I hope you are also lobbying HM Government to tell them there is something wrong with a national education system if schools, which are otherwise generally successful, feel they cannot cover the syllabuses in 198 days.

My third inquiry relates to your description of these holiday classes as "valuable". If they are valuable, presumably those who attend will be at an advantage over those who don't? Will you be sending the exam consortium the names of those disadvantaged by non-attendance and therefore likely to under-perform through no fault of their own? Would you object if any parents decided to do so? If you are not pursuing such a policy, then how can you claim the lessons are "valuable", and why are you putting them on in the first place?

The fourth matter is a legal one. As you know, parents are increasingly taking their children on holiday during term time. What advice would you give to those who are considering booking holidays during statutory periods, but may feel there is now little point in respecting the school year because there are likely to be lessons in holiday time to compensate?

My final worry concerns the teachers. I understand that you have managed to persuade a few staff to use some of their holiday time to teach these lessons. What do you say to any teacher who does not volunteer to run such classes? Apart from their legitimate claim to a holiday, do you think there is a chance that they might face adverse reactions from children and parents who might conclude that it is only selfishness which has stopped them cancelling their own holiday to keep on teaching?

Yours, Colin

The writer is head of department in an Essex comprehensive

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