Long school summer holidays should be scrapped, says new report

 (PA Archive)
(PA Archive)

School summer holidays should be cut from six weeks to four to improve the lives of teachers and children, a new report will say.

The school calendar, which has been in place since Victorian times, should be re-written, with the six-week summer break shortenedand half term holidays made longer, it said.

The report on tackling post-pandemic education inequalities is to be published by the Nuffield Foundation next month. But a summaryof the study, reported in the Guardian, said it is “time to consider reforms” to the school calendar.

Many experts have previously warned that long summer holidays cause learning loss, which affects more vulnerable pupils the most.

Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter and one of the report’s authors, said reforming the academic calendar in England would help tackle the educational divides that have grown since the pandemic.

He said: “Spreading school holidays more evenly across the year makes complete educational sense - improving the wellbeing of pupils and the working lives of teachers at no extra cost, balancing out childcare costs for parents, and potentially boosting academic results for many children.”

He added: “Reducing the summer holidays from six weeks to four weeks would still provide adequate time for teachers to recuperate, while two-week breaks during the February and October half-terms would give much-needed time off during the most gruelling parts of the academicyear.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said changing the length of the summer holiday is an idea that has been posited for many years.

He said: “There is some evidence that suggests changes could be beneficial to pupils and parents, but other research has been far less conclusive. It’s important that the impact of any changes are properly considered and must not be rushed into.”

The report says that some pupils, especially those from financially disadvantaged backgrounds and those with additional learning needs, find it difficult to get back to learning after long summer holidays. This results in the autumn term being devoted to revision rather than advancing learning. Teachers also report more behavioural andwellbeing issues after the summer break.

Mr Barton said: “The Nuffield Foundation’s report identifies some very real issues, including the growing mental health crisis and the disparity between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. It’s possible that changes to the school calendar could ameliorate these problems to some extent. But it could also prove a huge energy-sapping distraction from the most pressing issues of recruitment and retention, special-needs provision and funding for education.”

In Wales there are proposals for changes to its school year starting in 2025-26, initially cutting the summer break to five weeks with alonger half-term in autumn. That could be followed by more radical measures, such as a further reduction to four weeks’ holiday in summer, and adjusting the timing of the Easter holidays.

The report notes that several school trusts and local authorities in England have already introduced a two-week autumn half-term break, or have incorporated staff training days into one week instead of being spread across the year.

One multi-academy trust which introduced a longer half term last autumn said absences fell sharply among teachers and pupils, but some parents objected because of childcare difficulties.