School's over: time for real work

7th July 2000 at 01:00
Far from winding down as term ends, schools become a hive of activity over the summer, reports Phil Revell

FOR many schools, the end of the summer term was a ritual involving day trips to Alton Towers, the end of the formal curriculum and its replacement with quizzes. Once the pupils disappeared on the last day, so did the staff - to be replaced by a summer army of builders.

But those days are also disappearing fast, partly because of summer literacy and numeracy schools and partly because of the desire to make every second count.

Dame Tamsyn Imison, head of Hampstead School in the London borough of Camden for 16 years, outlawed the trips, quiz and videos. "It used to happen here, but I've said 'absolutely no'. Children get bored, they want to be challenged. If anything teachers should be more rigorous at the end of term. We teach up until the very last day." Once term ends, a site manager oversees contractors and - as in most schools - few of the teachers are not in for at least some of the time.

"An awful lot of work goes on in the last week of the holiday," she says.

Bordesley Green girls school in Birmingham is busy for much of the holiday. Some 60 per cent of the new Year 7 intake will be in school for two weeks, on literacy and numeracy summer schools. There is mediator-training for 20 Year 11 pupils who have volunteered to help younger pupils with friendship difficulties, plus arts courses, drama courses, and a programme of peer tutoring. The term doesn't appear to wind down so much as change gear. Bordesley Green will have some teachers working to specific contracts alongside others who have volunteered to help.

"A major expectation is that staff will take a well-earned holiday," says head Clare Considine, but the popular view of a six-week sojourn on a French beach clearly doesn't apply to most of the Bordesley staff.

In Cheshire, Nayland Southorn will keep Hartford high school open for the full six weeks and staff will come in to prepare for the new academic year at times which suit them. A skeleton team of caretakers and admin staff are on duty, with a more formal staff presence on the examination results days.

Mr Southorn also keeps normal essons going until the last day of term. Hartford can hardly be accused of stinting on trips and visits - at Easter four separate school trips went ahead - but Mr Southorn isn't convinced that term-time days out meet educational needs or pupil demand.

"Activity weeks and trips can take the eye off the ball," he says. "We used to run trips but the heads of year found that demand wasn't particularly high. We were getting a 60 per cent take-up. And that has implications for attendance."

Hartford will have contractors in, but Southern says the days when all maintenance work was carried out in the six-week break are long gone. "Work is scheduled right through the year," he said. This summer will see ICT networking throughout the school.

"This kind of work is best scheduled to a long-term development plan," he says. "It requires you to be flexible, to allow the work to go on without disturbance to the pupils or risk to health and safety."

The rush to cram maintenance and building work into the summer holidays has changed to a year-round operation in some areas because of cost increases for what used to be the period of highest demand: "Some of them were getting cute," commented one head.

Despite increased teaching work now taking place during holidays, there is little desire among heads to regularise the situation with new employment contracts. "People have families and it could be difficult to implement," says Pat Wills, head of Claremont primary in Blackpool. A change might have attractions from a management point of view, she says, but adds: "Teachers like to work informally."

On the last day most schools will allow the children to depart a little earlier than usual before having a staff meeting to review the year and say farewell to those moving on. Those include Tamsyn Imison who is leaving Hampstead School to do a PhD at the London Institute of Education.

"If you are a good teacher you don't want to waste a second," she advises teachers planning end-of-term lessons. It is advice she follows herself - her last duty will be the regular health and safety inspection she has carried out at the end of each summer term once staff and students have left.

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