To truly relax, we must give up long breaks

13th February 2015 at 00:00

No government would ever have the courage to take away teachers' generous holiday allowance. It is seen as an integral part of the profession - a non-negotiable condition of employment.

The thinking behind this attitude is that we need long holidays to counteract our horrendous workload. I certainly envy my friends who have balanced lives: a normal working day from 9am to 5pm, with time to recharge, pursue hobbies and socialise with friends. Even at the weekend, teachers are marking or preparing lessons. If they're not doing that, they still can't switch off because they can't avoid thinking about upcoming deadlines and targets. I have a friend who used to put in crazy hours as a currency trader in the City - he is now a teacher and says he has never worked harder in his life.

But I would argue that holidays are the cause of the workload problem rather than the cure. The truth is, we work no harder than any other dedicated professional but our work is condensed into smaller chunks.

We run like the wind for intense periods then stagger breathless into long breaks, before repeating the process. We don't pace ourselves. Instead it is a battle to fit everything in before the holidays start.

The longer breaks don't work well for students either. According to Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, after four weeks away from a particular environment we start to lose the skills and habits we have acquired.

We need to update a system that was invented to suit the conditions of the 19th century. I would prefer to have shorter holidays and cover the same syllabus over a longer period.

Teachers would be more energised and less pressured, and students would be able to explore and enjoy their subjects as teachers set more explorative tasks.

The organisation of the school year forces us to cram too much in to too little time, which is the very antithesis of good learning. We need to make a change.

The writer is a teacher in London

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