Wednesday, 3 July 2013
Excuse Me While I Have A Rant...
Yet again, a politician has decided that the "long" school Summer holiday is considered fair game, and has called for us to shorten the Summer so that we remain competitive. Quite apart from the fact that a politician decrying a long Summer holiday is actually rather ironic, ("calling black kettle pot" - rearrange to form a well-known phrase) it is also inaccurate.
Some years, state schools get a full six weeks in the Summer. More often than not, it's five and a half, very occasionally just five. I am prepared to admit that the staggered start at the beginning of the Autumn term does make it longer for some students (and, as a teacher, I guess I'm biased.)
Chris Skidmore MP claims that children need shorter holidays because they "forget" everything over the break, and this lowers academic progress. He also thinks children find long holidays tedious.
Well, I've been a teacher for longer than he's been an MP and I can vouch for the fact that, should you ask a student what work they did before the weekend, most of them would have forgotten it. This is the reason that lessons start with a recap of what we did before. It's well-known that repeating things over and over again helps to improve retention. "Forgetting" stuff over the Summer isn't actually a problem. Children (and teachers) need to have a break from academic work.
Mr. Skidmore points out that the long Summer holidays are really a relic from our farming roots. Again, speaking from my years of teaching experience, I can vouch for the fact that students really don't benefit from being herded into hot, stuffy classrooms and forced to try and concentrate when the Sun comes out. All those high-achieving countries tend to have air conditioning as par for the course, I believe. The infrastructure for home learning is also there - Singapore regularly closes its schools to prepare against outbreaks of diseases such as swine flu, to check that everything is in place for home learning.
It is also interesting to note that independent schools in the UK have longer holidays than state schools. I haven't noticed a dearth of attainment in children who are privately educated. As a former student at Bristol Grammar School, Mr. Skidmore would have experienced holidays lasting 8 weeks in the Summer, which I dare say he found tedious, especially as the Autumn and Spring half term holidays were each a week and a half in length (state schools get a week for each), and Christmas and Easter are both three weeks long (state schools get two weeks for each of these.)
Does Mr. Skidmore feel he could have achieved more if he hadn't been handicapped by such onerously long holidays, or does he think it only applies to the children of the general masses who are too stupid to cope?
I suspect that what Mr. Skidmore really means is that the long Summer holidays are inconvenient for parents who have to work. His description of children sitting playing with their Super Nintendos (how very out of touch - it's all Wii now, I believe!) strongly suggests children who are home alone, without a parent who can encourage them to go out to museums, parks, swimming pools and so on. The emphasis in this country is not giving children a good all-round education (encouraging independent exploration of topics and subjects which interest the individual child over the Summer would do this) but providing childcare while the parents are out at work. Hence the proposals to shorten the holidays and calls to lengthen the school day.
Stalin would have given his right arm to get this sort of separation of children from their parents and putting them into the care of the State...