Holiday schmoliday. Fran Abrams finds out why teachers and pupils are giving up part of the precious break to get back in the classroom
It's a sunny Friday during the summer school holidays, but at Hamilton Community College in Leicester, the car park is half full. Inside, about 20 pupils are working diligently around a big library table, writing postcards to their primary schools about their week-long summer literacy programme.
"If you do attend summer school, you will love it," writes Kyle Syrett, 11. "You will be shocked it's fun. It's literacy, but they make it interesting. You go on trips and this time we went to see The Simpsons Movie. The staff are really fun to be with."
"I'm proud of you all," beams Katie Lowe, the school's head of English, leaning over to look at the work Kyle and his new friend Jake Timpson, also 11, have done. "I did put in a lot of effort..." Kyle ventures, starting to blush. Then everyone bursts into a round of spontaneous applause.
Like most of the other pupils here, Kyle will start attending Hamilton next month. Some are picked because they need extra help with literacy, others because they lack confidence. But Kyle is happy to be here.
"I wasn't sure," he says later. "But if I wasn't here I would be in my house, playing a game. There isn't much to do in Hamilton (an area in the north-east of the city). So I kind of wanted to come."
Many of the other pupils agree with him. But perhaps a more pertinent question would be why their teachers have volunteered to be here. After all, the long summer holiday is one of the major compensations of the job.
Yet there are three teachers working on this week's programme with two support staff, and there are five other educational courses on offer during the summer break, including English as an additional language, information technology and an able and talented school. Katie looks almost surprised when she's asked whether she minds working in the holiday.
"No, not at all," she says. "When you see the pupils' smiley faces you know no one's forced them to come, either. It helps them, and it helps us."
Hamilton, which serves several large council estates on the outskirts of the city, will close for just 10 days this month for cleaning and maintenance. Increasing numbers of schools now stay open all year a move which would be applauded by the Government, which plans to invest pound;1 billion in its extended schools programme over the next three years. Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, wants every youngster to have access to before and after school services by 2010.
The Government has said it is not intended for these services to be delivered by teachers. Yet staff are starting to think differently about the way they work.
Lesley Halliwell, Hamilton's vice-principal, says working in the summer holidays has never been an issue with staff. "We've never been a school where people have taken six weeks off. We're a city school with major needs and the staff have always done extra. They're very happy to do it. It's totally voluntary and, although they do get paid (at an hourly rate, equivalent to a main scale classroom teacher), they don't get paid for all the hours they do. We're pleased we have such a dedicated staff after all, there are easier schools to work in," she says.
Hamilton is what is known as a full service extended school, incorporating social services and other agencies into its daily life to meet a much wider range of pupils' needs, as well as opening from 7.30am until 9pm each weekday. It is also a challenging school, with an increasing number of pupils who speak little English.
And there is evidence that its activities are likely to bring results. Researchers from the University of Manchester found these full service extended schools make a "real difference" to pupils on free school meals. The percentage of pupils getting five good GCSEs in this group of schools rose 5 percentage points between 2005 and 2006, compared with a national average rise of 2.5 points.
Other schools are feeling the benefit, too. Kimberley Moor, a design and technology and engineering teacher at Top Valley School and Engineering College in Nottingham, spent the first week of this year's holiday running an engineering course for seven Year 5 and 6 pupils from local primaries. Each day had a different activity, including making a hovercraft, hats and rockets.
"It's been successful. For me the time wasn't an issue, because I would have been coming in anyway to tidy up. I got paid, but I would have done it anyway. For me it means my job's going to be easier when they come up to this school. It means they understand the concept of engineering, that it isn't all greasy overalls and car mechanics. They are going to grasp it and move further on. We are going to see these students blossoming and taking leading roles in the classroom," says Kimberley.
However, most schools still use outside organisations or non-teaching staff to run summer schemes. Karen Stock, full-time extended schools co-ordinator for Shoeburyness High School in Essex and seven feeder primaries, says teachers there still view their roles as being quite separate.
This summer, the town's extended schools consortium is offering soccer, drama, multi-sports, basketball, dance and cheerleading, and has about 300 children attending over the holiday. Some newly qualified teachers and instructors are being paid to take part, but none of the school's core teaching staff. Last year, the school's teaching staff also offered literacy and numeracy for pupils who needed it.
"Teachers are used to their holidays," Karen says. "They do need their break. I guess they've had their six weeks' holiday for so long that it's a very difficult thing to give up. I would imagine that would be pretty hard. It's definitely something I would like to look into more. But like all walks of industry, you'll get some who'll embrace things and some who won't."
The teaching unions have their doubts, too. The Government has always said extended school activities need not be run by teachers and Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, agrees.
"We recognise that altruism and financial pressures will lead a few teachers to do this work, but we might also want to advise them to consider their state of exhaustion and whether it's really a good idea," he says.
Yet at Hamilton Community College, Lesley Halliwell is in no doubt the effort is worthwhile. "I think if you have good, willing staff and enough funding, you can only make winners," she says. "Everybody wins"
WHAT'S ON OFFER
* Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. Teachers from local primary schools are working with a company called Sportacular to offer tennis, hockey and a mini-Olympics.
* Caludon Castle School, Coventry. Planning to offer pupils six-week work experience stints during future holidays.
* Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Teachers from mainstream schools are giving up part of their holiday to run a scheme for pupils from local special schools.
* Penwith, Cornwall. A programme designed to raise school standards through sport is offering a wide range of summer activities.