After 12 months of disrupted schooling, questions are arising around how children will catch up on missed learning. One solution, recently proposed by the education secretary Gavin Williamson, involves major changes to the structure of the school year.
With a five-term year, mass testing and shortened summer holidays part of this proposal, the reaction from both the education sector and parents has been mixed.
A bold move
Before the pandemic the thought of unilaterally changing the structure of the academic year in a matter of months would have seemed extremely ambitious. However, the speed at which the emergency coronavirus legislation was introduced has proven that policymakers can move quickly when necessary.
Under the Coronavirus Act 2020 the changes will also need to be carried out by academies, independent and maintained schools, who usually have the freedom to set their own term times.
A shortened summer break has positives and negatives. Following months of home-schooling, parents may be grateful for some extra time to focus on their own work. However, many families are looking forward to being able to go on holiday and therefore plans could be derailed by a reduced summer break. Teachers may take a more objective view, with concern for pupils’ learning being their primary concern.
It is likely that teaching unions will have a lot to say on the matter but, until a plan is finalised, we will have to wait and see what their position is.
If school holidays are shortened a substantial amount of administration will have to be completed by educational institutions. In addition, employment law implications will have to be considered as any school that requires staff to change their working hours must review its terms and conditions of employment.
Flexibility is often built into teaching or other staff contracts, but this might not be enough to cover longer terms and shortened holidays. If the change to term times is not authorised by the contract, schools should aim to seek agreement from teachers before making any changes to terms and conditions of employment, ensuring that staff know what the proposals are and how they will impact them.
Should a member of staff refuse the changes, termination and re-employment is an option; however, this does carry legal risks. To avoid any difficult situations, schools should try and sell the idea of shorter summer holidays to staff. For example, pupils will benefit, and it will – hopefully – be a one-time only arrangement.
Until the government reveals its decision, we can only speculate as to the implications. What we do know for certain is that children need to catch up on their education, and the UK must do everything possible to ensure this happens.
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