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Regional chaos over school holidays

Andy Murray ponders, as the Easter break begins, why each local authority has its own holiday agenda

Published on March 20th 2008.

Regional chaos over school holidays

Confidential readers - young, vibrant, thrusting types that they are - will most likely have missed out on experiencing the Lancashire Wakes Weeks of the 20s and 30s.

At present, the local situation is garbled, awkward for pupils and parents and sorely needs addressing. Simply put, why don’t all local authorities have holidays at the same time?

A quick primer, then. It was built into the working year of assorted cotton-producing towns that their main holidays would be staggered from those of their neighbours, so as to avoid every industrial community in the area vamoosing at once. That way the industry in question wouldn’t get shut down in one fell swoop – and the beauty spots of Blackpool and the Isle of Man wouldn’t all be rammed at one time.

It may sound like a quaint notion, but more by accident than design, a similar pattern’s developed here and now. The main education authorities of the area generally set their school holidays slightly apart. In the summer, for example, Manchester schools tend to break up several days earlier than Trafford schools.

It’s perplexing, chaotic and awkward. In a parent’s life, especially those who work (which is most in 2008) it can be a fat, needless, bother. Consider, for instance, that most of the week-long half term breaks and two week term-end breaks fall on consecutive weeks for two adjacent authorities. If you’ve got more than one child and their schools aren’t within the same authority then you’re going to have to do a lot of arranging, or take your own holidays off to cover it, or pay for more childcare. This is a situation which has been exacerbated by the notion of ‘choice’ in which parents jockey to get into the best schools, outside their own local education authority area.

Even worse, schools within the same authority have the right to set their own holidays, thus not matching up with other holiday periods in neighbouring schools.

At present, the local situation is garbled, awkward for pupils and parents and sorely needs addressing. It’s designed not for the convenience of those pupils and parents (the customers in this situation) but for arcane reasons associated with local authority and school administration. Simply put, why don’t all local authorities have holidays at the same time?

The various authorities are aware of the situation, even if they are in no hurry to remedy it. Here’s an official quote from Trafford in response to the matter.

"Trafford Council confirms that it issues guidelines to all local schools around school holidays but that schools do have the autonomy to set their own holiday times. The council has met with head teachers and others to discuss the on-going situation regarding school holidays. Further work including liasing with neighbouring authorities is to be carried out, to see if it is possible to achieve more consistent school holiday periods.”

The Manchester City Council line differs from that slightly. Their spokesman said, "The local authority sets the calendar for all community and controlled schools and they are required to follow this. We then recommend that calendar to individual voluntary aided schools who have flexibility to make variations to fit around different religious festivals. When we set the calendar we do liase with all the other Greater Manchester authorities to try to get some synergy and to try as far as possible to keep our holidays in line.

Each local authority is free however to set its own calendar to ensure 190 pupil days in school and 5 additional teacher days for staff development when pupils aren't required to be in school and some differences can inevitably arise out of this."

This notion of individual schools having the freedom to set their term times throws up its own problems, though. It’s quite common for schools to publish holiday dates for the year only to fine-tune them along the way – sometimes even changing dates more than once. This week in particular, many faith schools have re-arranged Easter holiday dates fairly late in the day to avoiding breaking up on Good Friday. Parents miss these announcements at their peril. (This writer can speak from bitter experience of picking up children from school one Friday afternoon only to learn that they’re not due in the following week. Infuriating doesn’t cover it.)

No-one’s accusing education authorities of malice or devilment here. But the fact is, there are several areas throughout the country where schools liase to produce uniformity in their holidays. It can be done.

On Tuesday, Confidential published an article about the ludicrous situation on Metrolink with the ticket machines, and many readers posted comments about the need for an integrated transport policy. Perhaps we need an integrated holidays policy. The whole thing could be taken out of local authority and individual schools' hands, and a national regime imposed. Then we’d all know where we stood.

There again, maybe it is all a plot to covertly re-establish Wakes Weeks, so as to save Mancunian play-barns from getting overcrowded, or to ease walkway congestion in the Trafford Centre. Cunning.

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MadDadMarch 20th 2008.

Seems to me the staggered hols are a good idea for a number of reasons,(not just to allow folks to take holidays outside of the peak weeks when the holiday companies rip you off.) Also the last week when some (but not all) schools were off was a welcome reduction in traffic which is spread over a longer period than usual. It's difficult to sympathise with parents who choose to send their children to different schools in different boroughs,(causing traffic chaos, crowded public transport, "sink" schools deserted by able pupils and teachers, and manipulated league tables which change regularly) being "inconvenienced" by staggered holidays. Personally I object to schools dictating when I can take my children away when their teachers are regularly missing on "courses" or similar and the children babysat by supply teachers merely passing time. We have to obtain written personal permission of the head to take our child out just one day early (or late) but we have no redress if they choose to move the goalposts.The benefits of a continuous school year with 48 weeks a year but holidays whenever you choose (just like the rest of industry) would be immense. The drawbacks of term-time friendly work would be evened out by the advantages of stability in many industries as well as commuting, childcare, flexible working and the routine for children being unbroken. Obviously this would be anathema to the teaching unions and their 13 weeks a year holidays and job-for-life left-leaning mentality, but it might encourage those from other careers to undertake short, energetic bursts of teaching (on a part time or sabbatical basis)to bridge the chasm between academia and the world of work. (ie: just try recruiting a young ambitious person to train up in your company to see what I mean).

MeMarch 20th 2008.

I think the major issue is that Easter is much earlier than usual so it's only been 5 minutes since Feb half term and most schools aren't ready to have the end of term yet. Not sure what the solution is. But still, doesn't excuse schools for not liasing with the local authorities to take some pressure of stressed parents' shoulders. Or maybe it's a scam organised by childminders...

AJMarch 20th 2008.

It's the same problem across the UK. Leicestershire schools break 2/3 weeks earlier than other counties for summer hols. My nephews (from Surrey) have Good Friday to Easter Monday off, then go back into school and have their full 'Easter' holiday two weeks later. I think some sort of uniformity is called for - as long as someone lets me know when the breaks will be, so that I can avoid going on holiday myself at that time..!

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