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The pros and cons of school holidays

For most children in the UK, the school holidays are a welcome reprieve after weeks of learning. For some parents, however, the school holidays can be an unwelcome time of logistical stress and financial pressure.

With most working parents unable to take leave for the duration of the school holidays throughout the year, the impending breaks can be a “mix of panic, overwork, trying to find money for childcare and begging for help from grandparents”, said Allegra Chapman for the i news site. The “combination of the cost-of-living crisis and the long school holidays” also piles on the pressure for parents, said Katharine Swindells at City Monitor, and many parents “will be forced to give up work or reduce their hours” to look after their children.

For teachers, the holidays are “necessary for a break for both pupils and themselves”, said Yahoo! News, although they may “benefit from more spread-out breaks”, argued Chapman.

While the UK’s current school holiday calendar is a long-standing tradition, there is an ongoing debate as to whether school breaks should adapt to changes and pressures in society.

1

Pro: sufficient breaks for kids

The 91 days of holiday given to schoolchildren in the UK can be beneficial in allowing them time away from the rigours of structured learning. 

The six-week summer break particularly gives them time to “just be kids”, mother-of-two and former teacher Jo Otto argued in Yahoo! News, providing sufficient time for “children to have other opportunities” and “learn other skills outside of what they learn at school”. For parents, it can also be “precious time spent with them” within busy schedules.

2

Con: effect on learning

Pupils can lose up to “40% of the gains they have made over the school year while on summer break”, a 2020 study showed, often known as “‘summer slide’, or ‘summer learning loss’, reversing some of the progress students have made over the year”, said Forbes.

It seems true that “disparities in academic attainment, particularly around reading and language, grow during breaks”, Jon Kay of the Education Endowment Foundation told The Guardian. This can be largely “explained by levels of access to books and stimulation like museum visits”, which is much easier for affluent pupils, while those from poorer backgrounds tend to “stay stationary”.

3

Pro: good for teachers

The idea of shortening holidays is “incredibly unpopular with teachers” and would impact “the recruitment of high-quality teachers”, Kay said, and the UK’s summer holiday is already “one of the shortest in the OECD countries”.

Indeed, when the Welsh government launched a consultation on shortening school holidays and spreading them throughout the year, it immediately put “education unions on the defence”, Neil Butler, the national official for Wales for teaching union NASUWT, told the BBC. He said that if the “six weeks were reduced, you’d see a mass exodus from the profession”.

The summer break is a “key time for teachers to switch off from the stress and demand of the job”, the BBC said.

4

Con: pressure on parents

School holidays “are a nightmare for parents”, writes Chapman at the i news site, arguing for “shorter, more frequent set breaks across the year” or even having schools “operating all year round” and giving “annual leave” to children to match their parents. That would require “more investment into the school system to provide more, better paid, staff who can share the load and cover time off”, to also benefit teachers, she said.

The impending school holidays are an “intricate task demanding hours of planning” for parents, said Susannah Streeter at the BBC, trying to find “childcare and entertainment for the long stretch of summer”.

Increasing costs mean “many parents have to make some stark choices in terms of their careers”, with many choosing to take “a big salary drop as a compromise for flexibility”. 

5

Pro: summer is best time for break

A drastic change to school holidays would almost certainly see a reduction of the long summer stretch, meaning extra weeks earlier and later in the year at half-terms. 

“The huge disadvantage of a two-week half-term break at the end of October is undoubtedly the weather,” writes teacher Yvonne Williams in TES Magazine. She argues that a staycation is a “less attractive proposition in the last weeks of October” and that inclement weather and shorter days will keep children “glued even more firmly to the internet”.

An extension of the summer break would be better, she argues, as there are “threads trailing” in the autumn, making it harder for teachers to switch off and for pupils to stay on top of their work. 

6

Con: exacerbates inequality

The increasing cost of childcare and activities during holidays means disadvantaged families are often left worse off. The UK has seen a “decline in the availability and sufficiency of holiday childcare” while the “cost of accessing physical activity spaces” is preventing some children from “doing more physical activity”, writes Katharine Swindells.

Poorer families who rely on free school meals often have to “meet the extra food costs” during the holidays, with some parents having to “skip meals over the summer break” to ensure their children are fed, said The Observer. With lower government support it’s “leaving charities, food banks and businesses to pick up the shortfall”, said Swindells.

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