UK

England’s school summer holidays should be cut to four weeks, report to say

Report author Lee Elliot Major said: ‘It’s time to reform a school calendar that has been stuck in place since Victorian times.’

The report will suggest that cutting the school holidays would help many parents with the cost of childcare and holidays
Royal High School The report will suggest that cutting the school holidays would help many parents with the cost of childcare and holidays (Ben Birchall/PA)

Thought should be given to cutting the school summer holidays in England to try to help pupils, parents and teachers, a report is to suggest.

A four-week summer holiday instead of a six-week break could be part of changes “to a school calendar that has been stuck in place since Victorian times,” according to a new report on tackling post-pandemic education inequalities.

The report, which is due to be published on a date to be fixed after Easter, looks set to call for changes so summer holidays in state schools are cut from six weeks to four, while half-term breaks in autumn and winter could each be extended from one week to two.

The summary of the report, which is part of a Nuffield Foundation-funded project, states: “Spreading school holidays more evenly across the year could improve the working lives of teachers by making term lengths more equal.

“This would make planning easier and help to alleviate mounting fatigue and pressure faced by teachers and their pupils during the long autumn term before Christmas.”

Lee Elliot Major, who is one of the report authors and a professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, said: “It’s time to reform a school calendar that has been stuck in place since Victorian times.

“Spreading school holidays more evenly across the year makes complete educational sense: improving the wellbeing of pupils and the working lives of teachers, balancing out childcare costs for parents, with the added potential benefit of boosting academic results for many children.

“Reducing the summer holidays from six weeks to four weeks would still provide adequate time for teachers to recuperate while two-week breaks during the February and October half-terms would give much-needed time-off during the most gruelling parts of the academic year.”

The report is set to say: “Calls to reduce the six-week summer break often centre around debates as to whether children suffer learning loss over the summer months.

“But it’s often safeguarding worries that play on the minds of teachers who are acutely aware that abuse, neglect and mental health do not take a break over the holidays.

“A recent study found that mental health had worsened for seven and 14-year-olds when they returned to school after the long summer break, with the biggest declines associated with under-resourced pupils. This makes it more difficult to get back to learning.”

The report suggests that socio-emotional development is just as important as cognitive skills in shaping children’s future education and life prospects.

It adds: “Shortening the summer holidays would also have the added benefit of spreading out the logistics and costs of childcare and holidays across the year for many parents.

“It would help parents working during this time in the holiday or catering industries.”

It also states that several school trusts, schools and local authorities are “already reforming” their academic calendars, some introducing a two-week autumn half-term break to incorporate all staff training over one week instead of separate days across the year.

Recent proposals by the Welsh Government for schools across Wales from 2025 include cutting summer holidays by a week, introducing a two-week autumn half-term plus keeping the spring break at a constant midpoint and separating it from Easter holidays.

The report also adds: “We believe teachers could also benefit from a two-week break during February.

“Under these changes, the number of days of school holidays and teaching days would not change. Reforming the school calendar is zero-cost reform that would be popular with parents and has the potential to improve education for teachers and their pupils.”

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Decisions on school holidays are made on a local basis and do vary in different areas of England already.

“There’s mixed evidence on the benefits of spreading holidays more evenly across the year and we think it is probably best that these decisions continue to be made locally with the views of families and school staff being taken into account.

“A wholesale national change would involve considerable disruption at a time when we are better off focusing on the immediate challenges in education, such as the staff recruitment and retention crisis.”

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said there is a need for investment in “high-quality services” for children in order to try and fix the cumulative impact of the pandemic and school under-funding.

He said: “These proposals to shorten the school summer holidays are nothing new. Depressingly, what is also not new is the lack of credible evidence demonstrating that such changes would improve educational standards.

“The last 14 years have seen schools trying to fill the gaps as wider children’s services and support for the most vulnerable have all but disappeared.”