Is the summer break too much of a good thing?

24th July 2015 at 01:00

How I dread becoming a slave to the school holidays. My eldest starts school next year and I cannot begin to imagine how we are going to organise holiday childcare, particularly when it comes to the long summer break. And then there's the prospect of never again going on a bargain-priced holiday or being able to visit a museum that isn't mobbed.

Such petty middle-class moans and groans can be easily dismissed, but not so the problems thrown up by the long summer holidays for families on low incomes. A recent survey by YouGov found that four out of 10 parents in low-income households skip meals in the summer holidays so they can afford to feed their children.

In North Ayrshire, the council is continuing to provide free school meals to children who are entitled to them as part of a holiday play scheme. Three other Scottish councils are offering free meals to all pupils in schools with high deprivation levels. This latter programme has been developed in conjunction with charity Children in Scotland, which earlier this month called for free meals to be made available to all children outside term time.

The long summer holiday is, of course, meant to be bad for children in another sense, too: experts say they forget what they have learned, which affects the transition to their next year of education.

Scottish councils could make changes if they saw fit to do so. They are obliged to provide 190 days of education each year but are free to organise terms and holidays as they like. To date they have made no radical changes to the traditional set-up.

In England, however, where schools gained the power to set their own term dates just this year, a couple of primary schools in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, have cut the summer break to four weeks, with extra time off added at other times of the year.

Press reports about White's Wood and Mercer's Wood primary academies have focused on the benefit to parents who are now able to take off-peak holidays. However, Sharron Close, the executive principal of Tall Oaks Academy Trust, which runs the schools, said that the main impetus for change was "children's learning".

The move to alter the structure of the holidays had been sparked by two things, she said. Children tended "to drop back" on some learning over the long summer vacation, and the 15-week term at Christmas was making children and their teachers ill.

Ms Close added that a teacher had asked for the changes. But there is an argument that says the long summer break is vital for staff so they can properly de-stress.

At the end of the day - as any online forum will show - it's impossible to please everybody. The only thing to do is to make the child's welfare paramount and ask ourselves: are the long summer holidays good for students? For some of them but certainly not all, it seems.

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