Hands off our holidays

school blog

Last week I wrote about how some supermarkets can’t wait for the summer holidays to be over so they can get back to the serious business of flogging us new school uniforms.  The ‘Back to School’ posters were up before the schools had even broken up.

Now it seems some schools really are wishing away the long summer holidays. From 2015 all state schools in England will soon be able to consign the long summer break to history if they choose. Some schools have already done away with it and replaced it with seven short terms and a summer holiday of four weeks.

Ros McMullen, head teacher of the David Young Community Academy – a secondary school in Leeds, was recently justifying the change on the grounds that her children didn’t get the chance to go away for long holidays and spent the summer getting increasingly bored and forgetting everything they had learnt during term time. But surely that’s the whole point of a long summer holiday. It’s what childhood is all about – having a long stretch of time when you don’t have to do anything except be a kid. Unless you become a teacher or run your own fantastically successful business, your school days are the only time in your life you can legitimately clock off for six weeks. University students don’t have the luxury of lounging about all summer any more – they are too busy working or boosting their CV with work experience and good deeds.

The Leeds head teacher made a good point when she said that because her pupils lived in such a deprived area they were unlikely to be spending an idyllic summer exploring rock pools or cycling down country lanes, but I think she underestimates both her children and her city when she blamed “inner city life” for their being unable to make good use of the long lazy days of summer. Leeds is an amazing city and you don’t have to be rich to enjoy it. Boredom is a great spur to action and I should know. It’s the only thing – other than a deadline – that motivates me to do anything. I could tell from the way she was speaking about her children that she only wanted the best for them, but others might not be so caring. And it’s easy to allow a few energetic well-intentioned types muck things up for the rest of us. And when you look at it, one person’s convincing-sounding argument that ditching long summer holidays protects the deprived from boredom and falling behind in their education is incredibly patronising. Suggesting that unless you have means and middle class at your disposal you won’t be able to make good use of all that time off. Ridiculous!

Before we know it long summer holidays could be consigned to Enid Blyton stories or become the preserve of the rich who can buy their way into traditional schools by cash or postcode.

It may sound naïve and a bit idealistic, but before we start doing away with our long summer holidays because they are “inefficient” I think we should take a step back and look at the wider picture and ask ourselves, “What is life all about?”

I agree with Anthony Seldon the head of Wellington College, who believes ditching the summer holidays is just another way of imposing the rules of the adult workplace on to our children’s lives. Before we do that let’s think about what we are trying to achieve – after all, why do most people work? Isn’t part of the reason so that they can have enough money to pay for a lovely long summer holiday and one day retire to the seaside?

You don’t have to live in a Boden catalogue to have an idyllic long summer holiday, though of course that does help. Some people are lucky enough to be able to pack up their lives for the summer and head to a villa in Tuscany or Granny’s rambling house in Devon or caravan in Southend. But most of us muddle along stealing a week off here and there sharing childcare and hunting out a few play schemes or camping trips to brighten things up. And yes there will be days when our children do little more than loll about in their bedrooms or watch four hours of Friends back to back or sit on the wall outside the corner shop all day.

That’s called being a kid and it’s what helps us to work out how to make friends, how to keep ourselves occupied and to work out how we want to spend our lives. If the summer holidays really are too empty for children in Leeds then we should be filling them with subsidised trips to the seaside and fun days in the park, not rounding them up and herding them back to school in August because they make the place look untidy.

It’s perfectly possible – the community centre round the corner whose grant has all but disappeared has just strung up a six foot banner in the street advertising a family fun day to launch its summer play scheme. You should come along, there’ll be a bouncy castle, a barbecue, arts and crafts and a mobile spray tan booth for those of us who won’t be jetting off to Tuscany.

Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn

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