Summer Holidays or more School Days?
Just as I was enjoying the sunshine (and hopefully you were too) the last few days of a restful and restorative Easter Holiday, the press was full of Mr Gove’s latest protestations about the length of school holidays and why they should be shortened.
It’s a theme that appears in the press with a degree of regularity and it’s easy to see why. School holidays are long, and most parents work, so how do we balance the need for parents to work with who looks after the children?
I have a great deal of sympathy with this view. When I was growing up, I came from a very traditional family where my mother didn’t go out to work, and there never seemed to be the same issues about child care in the school holidays. Most of my friends were in the same situation – this was the 1970’s after all!
Today, society is different. Increasingly both parents work and therefore the issue of child care in school holidays is a major concern for such parents. I am always amazed by the ingenuity of parents who manage the long school holidays with a rota of time off work, family and relatives drafted in and coming to mutual child care arrangements with friends. There are an increasing amount of holiday clubs available to help parents, with all year round nuresery care and activity sessions from Mad Science to sports in school holidays to provide worthwhile fun activities, as well as quality care.
Whilst having sympathy for parents struggling to find holiday care for their children, I disagree with Mr Gove’s arguments for shorter school holidays and longer school days for pupils.
What parents need is good child care for their children during the school holidays rather than more school. What children need is a break from their studies, a chance to play with family and friends, a chance to recharge batteries and assimilate their learning, a chance to take up new hobbies and meet new people and, dare I say it, a chance to be bored and have to make their own fun to fill an unstructured day. In other words, we need to give our children the opportunity to be children.
Mr Gove is also keen to make comparisons with schools in The Tiger Economies South East Asia, with long days and lots of homework. Having visited schools in China and Vietnam, the work ethic of the pupils is impressive, but the schooling is not something I would wish to replicate here. Very large classes of children sitting in serried rows, learning by rote, demonstrating excellent computational skills but limited creativity, is not the education system we should want for our children. Why is it, that British International Independent Schools are in such demand overseas? Why do so many families living overseas seek to send their children to British Independent Schools? It is precisely the quality of education offered, broad and balanced curriculum, creativity and thinking skills that is valued so highly the world over, but not so by Mr Gove.
Would longer school days and shorter holidays improve results? The evidence for this is far from clear. Anecdotally, children at Independent Schools as a whole achieve better exam results and have longer holidays than state school pupils.
Having seen how hard our pupils (and teachers) work, I feel the holidays are a necessary balance between the long days and demanding curriculum that our children already experience at school.