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Council insanity over school hols

Jonathan Schofield hits a brick wall over spread of Easter hols

Written by . Published on April 18th 2011.

Council insanity over school hols

Confidential has been ringing up Councils about school holidays over the last few weeks.

“We are here to coordinate between councils but over this matter as I say, I don’t know the answer,” came the reply. “You may think this is rather odd,” the spokesman added.

This is because we’ve had unhappy readers ringing us up, unsettled by the chaos of the present holiday arrangements.

For instance Trafford’s two week holiday for Easter has just finished. Manchester’s has just begun. Other holiday provisions span the two, with many individual schools opting out of their local authority recommendations and going their own way.The result is that for some parents Easter holidays have taken on summer holiday proportions.

For people like Charlotte Griffin this is a real problem.

“I have a child in secondary school in Trafford and one in a primary school in Manchester. The way the holidays have been organised this time has added expense to our family budget at a time when we could really do without it. It means we have to sort out for four weeks rather than two - it’s like another summer holiday. It also means that friends from different boroughs don’t get the holidays to play together which is unfair.”

Griffin concludes with a question: “Don’t the different councils talk to each other about coordinating holidays?”

Well Charlotte, the answer is largely no they don’t, although they may pretend they do.

Trafford’s Corporate Director of Children and Young People’s Service Deborah Brownlee said to us: “Before we set the calendar, we consult not only with our Community School Headteachers, but those of Voluntary Aided and Foundation Schools, who are responsible for determining their own calendar.

“This year, as Easter is late and there were plans to change the Key Stage 2 SATS dates, we consulted on two calendars. The first was on the more traditional pattern based around Easter, while the other provided more even term dates that better suited the SATS.

“We also did our best to coordinate with other neighbouring local authorities proposed dates. The decision was taken to opt for the one providing more even term dates.”

Pretty words. But mere gloss. The statement explains what Trafford did but not whether it tried hard to coordinate dates. The evidence suggests, and we’ve contacted Manchester as well, that Councils decide on their own school schedule with only maybe a cursory glance elsewhere.

The craziness this Easter extends beyond schools of course. It means sports groups and other organisations are affected. My son is a pupil in Trafford. A football team he plays for has a tournament in Barcelona this week. The team agreed to attend because it seemed a week when most of the lads were off school. Not Trafford.

Of course, my son’s loving the extra time-off, but the holiday chaos does mean he needlessly loses four days of education.

The body that should be overseeing a common holiday provision is the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA).

All the councils we talked to directed us to AGMA. The latter is made up of representatives who attempt to ensure they pull in the same direction in key areas such as transport, education, health and so forth.

It wasn’t easy tracking down people from AGMA. Confidential was pushed from pillar to post for days until amid an increasingly bizarre bureaucratic minefield of idiocy we found the right person.

The spokesperson for Greater Manchester Integrated Support Team said this: “School holidays have managed themselves. The ten districts of Greater Manchester operate their own systems. It’s a district responsibility. We don’t have any influence over it.”

“But surely you’ve had meetings about it?” I asked. “This is a big issue for a lot of parents and kids, and this year Greater Manchester seems to have got it very wrong. Why not just bang heads together and say that as a region we’ll all recommend the same holidays?

There was a pause.

“I really can’t answer that, I’m afraid. It’s not been raised as an issue in my experience. To get somebody to answer corporately as a group on school holidays for the different districts is something we’ve not got anything prepared for. Although maybe it’s something we should consider in the future. I’m a parent too, so I entirely understand the point being made here and thought about it myself. But as I say, from my experience it’s something that's never been discussed politically.”

“But isn’t this exactly the sort of thing you should be talking about?” I asked. “Isn’t the whole point of the group to help the region run smoothly? AGMA has discussed other aspects of education and training, so why not this?”

“We are here to coordinate between councils, yes, but over this matter as I say, I don’t know the answer,” came the reply.

“You may think this is rather odd,” the spokesman added.

Odd, yep. Infuriating would be another word. And stupid.

Not one parent we’ve asked thinks the way school holidays have been arranged this Easter across Greater Manchester is satisfactory. Nor is this a new issue, but one that recurs to a greater or lesser extent every year.

It would be good to think that elected representatives, school boards and governors could think beyond their own narrow little worlds and act on this to ensure that school holidays are coordinated in future.

This would be for the greater benefit of parents and pupils across the region. The important people in other words.

Follow Jonathan Schofield on twitter @JonathSchofield

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22 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Eddy GoveApril 18th 2011.

The school calendar runs pretty much the same way as it has done for 60 years and that is along anglo saxon christian lines - drawn up at a time when children were born into two parent families and only the father worked. To most modern urban families this calendar, and school timetabling in general, is anachronistic. Why this hasnt been 'raised as an issue' at the highest level, never mind at a local level, is baffling and perverse. It would be a major vote winner for any education secretary who was brave enough to rethink the whole school calendar - the current one has trouble tying his own shoelaces though so dont hold your breath.

AnonymousApril 18th 2011.

It's absurd and totally lacking in any common sense. In Trafford, which seems to be permanently out-of-synch, there isn't even any coordination between the state schools so there is a load of additional absenteeism to deal with as well. This is going to get worse as schools devolve from the Local Authories. No-one ever mentions the cost to business - I am self employed, but also the primary carer, and juggling work and children's 'downtime' 2 weeks ahead of the Easter bank-holidays when clients and colleagues are working flat out to clear things for the bank holidays puts a stress on my kids as well as my small business. Teachers have firmly told me that the timing is to suit the children's needs not the parents - but I struggle to accept that 2 weeks off, followed by 3 weeks of 3-day weeks (and another 10 days off 2 weeks later) is going to be good for my kids educational progress.

Billy BunterApril 18th 2011.

The whole idea at the moment of these separate hols is clearly a way for the councils to hold onto some residual power.

AnonymousApril 19th 2011.

Bad for families with children in different Boroughs, but probably good for more families who may have taken a holiday at a lower rate.
If all schools were exactly the same week, the Travel companies would peak the costs even more.

Jim McApril 19th 2011.

Anonymous they still charge more as airlines to cover the period

StevieApril 19th 2011.

Agree with Anon, Trafford's holiday calendar this year is absurd at best. Rather than two weeks of half term taken during the Easter holidays, they have brilliantly set them for the two weeks before. Beggars belief!

Fairy NuffApril 19th 2011.

"friends from different boroughs don´t get the holidays to play together which is unfair.” Why is it unfair? What has fairness got to do with that? Do you mean unfortunate?

Fairy NuffApril 19th 2011.

Paraphrasing slightly...“(School holidays are) a district responsibility. We don´t have any influence over it.”
“But surely you´ve had meetings about it?”
Yeah that sounds sensible, we love our council members having meetings about things they can't influence. ManCon should encourage more wasteful meetings.

Anon TooApril 19th 2011.

My Fairy, you are in a grump today.

Has someone run over your cat?

AnonymousApril 19th 2011.

I'm another parent with one child in Manchester School and one in Trafford - and I know several others in the same boat. The lack of co-ordination is pretty ridiculous - and ultimately it's families who suffer because it deprives us of the chance to do do stuff together. Not to mention the economic impact of being less productive for 4 weeks instead of two.

Sharon SharpeApril 19th 2011.

Has it occurred to anyone that the reason for the change to normal holidays i.e. off for 2 weeks before Easter is because it suits the teachers...
"2 weeks off, followed by 3 weeks of 3-day weeks (and another 10 days off 2 weeks later)" it not only beggars belief it makes me extremely jealous!!!

AnonymousApril 19th 2011.

The council doing something purely to suit teachers? You've clearly never been a teacher...

(Teacher in Salford, which also has just gone back after 2 weeks off)

AnonymousApril 19th 2011.

I do apologise - English is only my third language, so you will have to forgive an occasional lapse in clarity of meaning.

Please feel free to include "LEA" as appropriate in my above post if you are struggling.

AnonymousApril 20th 2011.

Utter insanity. We'll never be 'Greater' Manchester if we can't even co-ordinate holidays. What a load of tosh. AGMA: get some teeth and sort this out. Ridiculous.

Ali McGowanApril 20th 2011.

Utter insanity. We'll never be 'Greater' Manchester if we can't even co-ordinate holidays. What a load of tosh. AGMA: get some teeth and sort this out. Ridiculous.

Sausage TowerApril 20th 2011.

A ha!! Mcgowan, you posted twice and releaved yourself as THE infamous anonymous.
I've been on the trail of you for years and now I've finally uncovered the mystery! Suppose I best go back to the wife and kids now and see if my job is still there. They all think I'm dead I think. It was worth it.

Christopher BryanApril 20th 2011.

It's the councillors who need to get together and sort this out. The lead members for education need to get together and put something in place - AGMA only perform certain functions.

Pity that Trafford councillors are more interested in political point scoring with other councils (especially Mcr) rather than work together productively.

CJApril 20th 2011.

why not just have done with it and implement the Easter Act of 1928?

Ali McGowanApril 21st 2011.

I don't normally post anonymously - it shouldn't be allowed! :)

Brian StevensonApril 24th 2011.

Local authorities and schools should be bolder about spreading out holiday breaks and adopting more radical patterns. Given that parents face more and more pressure to take holidays with their children outside school terms, it would be most helpful if out-of-term dates were as varied as possible, to stop holiday companies ratcheting up their prices.

AnonymousMay 9th 2011.

We've seen nothing yet. Academies and Free Schools are 'out of Local Authority control' and they will choose their own holiday dates.

Holiday dates are one of the last things (apart from financial supervision) that LEAs control in their schools. It's only when a school get into to trouble that they can intervene.

After all you all voted for the Big Society and devolution to communities and neighborhoods, and now you don't like it.

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