How interesting it was to read the letter by Hilary Chivall (TES, January 12) entitled "Five terms would give us all a break". The pattern which she envisages - five terms of eight weeks duration, with no half termly interruptions but with a full fortnight at the end of each term to allow both staff and pupils to recover from all their hard work and to recharge their batteries - sounds really wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that you wonder why on earth it has not been tried somewhere before.
The interesting thing is that it has - in the much maligned city technology colleges. While so much hot air has been expounded by the critics over issues of funding and supposed elitism, the reality is that the 15 colleges have been quietly, but determinedly, getting on with trying to do their best for their students and at the same time fulfilling their other major role of educational research and development.
One of the greatest advantages of being independent of local authority control from the beginning was the opportunity it gave to look critically and objectively at structural issues such as the length of the school day and the organisation of the academic year.
For many years I had been aware of the unsatisfactory nature of the three-term year. In this, the whole period from January to the end of the summer is dictated by whenever Easter happens to fall: thus resulting in a short spring term and an excessively long summer term or vice versa. I also felt that the length of the autumn term was counterproductive and that no one really benefited from the single week of half-term in its midst. For all these reasons I looked for an alternative which could be introduced at Bradford when the college opened in September 1990.
I looked first at the four-term structure as this had been advocated in some quarters as an alternative to the existing model. However, I found that four terms of 10 weeks duration meant that schools would be in session throughout most of July and August - clearly an impractical situation. I also felt that 10-week terms would be too long for all concerned.
It was for these reasons that I considered a five-term structure. I then discovered, to my surprise, that this was already been implemented at Djanogly CTC in Nottingham. A visit there convinced me that this was the right way to proceed: it seemed popular with all concerned - staff, students and parents. Consequently the five-term year was introduced at Dixons CTC in September 1990 and has operated efficiently and effectively ever since.
Other CTCs were able to choose whether to adopt this new model or remain with the traditional school year. In practice just over half decided to be experimental in this regard. I am sure that Hilary Chivall would be most welcome at any of these colleges to test her vision at first hand - she would not be disappointed with the experience!