While there is obviously a cheerful end-of-term buzz in staffrooms this week, there’s also a degree of resentment in the air. What rankles us is that “this week” exists at all. We all know schools that are already “off”. They sensibly closed on Friday.
Why are we still opening the stable doors for two or three more days, only to reflog a horse that has been resoundingly dead for at least a week? Inevitably, some of our young colts have already bolted from the stable, and it is hard to blame them. Personally, I would rather chase down a couple of teaching friends who have sent me pointed images today from their “delightful” little holiday gite in deepest France. The place they took last year turned out to be infested with mice; let’s hope this one's different. Rats, perhaps?
The holidays haven’t always been as divisive as this. Previously schools may have sometimes closed on different dates but teachers knew that justice would prevail in the end. They had faith that some all-powerful term-timetabling figure in the local authority would ensure that schools all equalised out over the course of the year. We knew that a stunted little week like this one was all part of that balancing-out process. It was still annoying and pointless, but at least it was seen as fair.
Summer holiday discrepancies
But in the age of academies, that all-seeing divine determinator has gone and there is no longer any reason to believe in coordination, fairness, and justice – whether over teachers’ holidays or over anything else. As long as a school keeps within its statutory obligations, it can open and shut much as it pleases. I know for a painful fact, for instance, that my gite-loving friends have done absolutely nothing to earn that earlier finish – no extra days of teaching earlier in the year, no attendance at extra twilight training in lieu, absolutely nothing, “rien du tout”.
And while we’re on the question of holiday discrepancies, I still don’t quite understand why independent schools are outside the law and can close for the summer up to a month before anyone else. In fact, I know of one private school where they once planned to finish the summer term so early that they had to hastily reopen the gates so that their A-level candidates could complete their remaining exams.
That said, I know that I should keep this in perspective. I completely appreciate that those of us working this week are still going to enjoy a long and widely-envied summer break. Given the deeper crises and injustices facing teachers and schools, getting too uptight over a few days of lost summer holiday is possibly about as relevant as fighting with a fellow passenger over a deckchair on the Titanic. But a deckchair is still a deckchair – wherever it might be – and I still don’t understand why I am not sitting in one right now.
Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire