So much of what Michael Gove comes out with in the guise of policy pronouncements is little more than the inane wittering of a gollumesque lunatic beggar suddenly thrust into power and wielding it with all the panache and finesse of a toddler with a kitchen knife – you feel powerless to intervene lest you make things worse, yet you know that somehow it’s all going to end in tears.
It therefore pains me to say this – but I think Michael Gove might actually be right about something: the educational year needs rethinking (Guardian: Michael Gove axes six-week summer holidays for schools). Approximately 45% of total holiday time in the year falls in July and August, the rest being spread out across the year with various half terms and religious holidays. As Gove points out, this is a historical anachronism based around the agricultural calendar and is not so relevant for the vast majority of pupils in education today. Is there any reason why we should continue with the system as it is? There is some evidence from schools, which have already changed their term dates and re-arranged their holidays more evenly throughout the year, to say that such re-arrangement is benefitting students who have less time over the summer to forget what was taught and less time to get bored and into trouble (unfortunately I cannot remember where I saw that – apologies).
As usual with any government announcement that seems as though it might be halfway decent, the implementation seems sure to be shoddy and ill-thought through. The Guardian article states (and I couldn’t find corroboration on the DfEE website) that the change to axe the six-week summer break is not coming specifically from the DfEE but rather the DfEE is just allowing schools to set their own term dates (bypassing local council oversight) based around a required minimum of 190 schooling per year. In other words the DfEE is not requiring schools to change anything, it is just saying they can if they want to.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out: whether very much changes at all, whether schools seize the initiative to make timetables more amenable to parent schedules or whether anyone thinks of what would be best for all the students in all this. Concerns about co-ordinating schedules of children in different schools, moving holidays away from the summer sunshine and the impact on business are already being expressed.
If it does all change, one area it seems no-one has much thought about is, of course, ELT. According to a Department for Business Innovation and Skills (DBIS) report, the ELT industry accounted for just under £2 billion worth of the UK economy in 2008/9, this being made up of £879.5 million in tuition fees and £1116.7 million of “non-training fee expenditure”. (Conlon, Litchfield & Sadlier: 2011). ELT in the UK is a year-round industry and operates in a range of different areas, but I wonder what the impact would be on the summer school industry? If UK schools and colleges are open pretty much all the time, where and when will all the summer courses go?
I suspect that the DfEE plan is to let this chaos emerge and sort itself out in the long run. With schools setting their own dates, no-one will be able to blame the DfEE or Michael Gove for freeing up the marketplace (I take it everyone else realises this is just the initial stages of privatising the education system by other means?) and if and when eventual consensus emerges, the government can say this was the plan all along.
Speaking personally, I would welcome a change in the holiday system. I don’t get nearly as much time off as the 67 days a year enjoyed by students and teachers in my former London home and I would welcome seeing it spread more evenly across the year. Maybe a system of 4 weeks on and one week off? With a two week holiday period every six months? That would work for me. Could completely destabilise the holiday and tourism industry though. And cause havoc with exam dates. And university entrance, terms and organisation. And parents taking time off work. And businesses arranging leave / cover for staff.
Well, when you find yourself agreeing, even partially, with a politician who skulks around the corridors of power muttering daft schizophrenic witterings about hobbits and a return to the Victorian Values that made the Shire so great; who bases policy on evidence garnered from a hotel chain’s market research and who clearly has no idea of the difference between correlation and causation – well, then you know the end of the world is surely a strange place indeed.