Stripping Summer Holidays and Lengthening School Days is Not a Solution

If I wasn’t a teacher I think I would have supported Michael Gove’s push for reduced summer vacation and longer school days. Non-teachers are quick to remind us teachers that our vacation time is too long and our contact hours are just as generous. These same people wouldn’t teach if their life depended on it!

Firstly, while it is true that are holidays are long, we teachers get burnt out by the demands of our job. As much as I love teaching, towards the end of a given term, I am crawling towards the finishing line. Teaching is such a physically and emotionally charged career, it is simply impossible to envisage a 4 week annual holiday like other professions experience.

Secondly, our working hours do not stop at the end of day bell. Unlike many other professions, teachers are expected to take their work with them. From planning and marking to writing reports, teachers are forever working. This includes night, weekends and yes, holidays!

Michael Gove seems to think that quality will come with quantity. I am not so sure:

The school day could be extended and summer holidays reduced, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said yesterday.

Under the proposals for the extended day, pupils could remain in school between 7.30am and 5.30pm and attend on Saturdays, with an extra two weeks potentially being added to school terms.

Over a five-year period, the extended hours would mean pupils gained as much as a year’s worth of extra education, allowing them to take vocational subjects in addition to their exam material.

Asked how this would affect teachers, he said: “If you love your job then there is, I think, absolutely nothing to complain about in making sure you have more of a chance to do it well.”

Mr Gove said the move would benefit “poorer children from poorer homes”, who “lose learning over the long summer holidays”.

Mr. Gove’s assertion that if teachers loved their jobs they would have nothing to complain about is quite insensitive and offensive. I love my job and do the best that I can. But I have limitations. I feel that if I was teaching in England, this proposal would burn me out earlier and more severely. I find it very sad that the Education secretary is so out of touch with teaching and the demands of a modern-day teacher.

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4 Responses to “Stripping Summer Holidays and Lengthening School Days is Not a Solution”

  1. Margaret Reyes Dempsey Says:

    As a parent, if they extended the school day and did away with summer vacations, I would move out of my district. Anyone who thinks that education can or should only happen in a classroom has absolutely no sense. Down time, relaxation, camping trips, socializing with people of all ages, volunteer work etc. are all part of a well-rounded education and life. There’s barely enough time for that now with all the homework, so elimination of summer vacation would be unacceptable to me.

    Bad, bad, bad idea. And can I just say, bad.

    The issue of “losing learning” over the summer is easily remedied. My son does an hour or two of review work (English and Math) every day in the summer. This past summer he took a speed reading class that he really enjoyed and that helped with his schoolwork. Aside from that hour or two, he was free to frolick, explore nature, breathe fresh air, play outdoor sports, help his elderly neighbors with chores, go to the beach, camp in a tent under the stars. I would call all of those activities a form of education as well.

    Education officials should consider that a teacher needs to recharge their batteries and engage in some personal and career development in their time off to keep them fresh.

    • Michael G. Says:

      Sounds like you are providing your son with a wonderfully well-rounded education! As bad as the idea is, I am worried it will catch on in America and Australia. Hope I’m wrong.

  2. John Tapscott Says:

    Why is it that the idiots who know least about education have most to say on the subject? Anybody who knows the subject knows that education is more akin to gardening and farming than it is to factory or office work. It’s also a little like building.

    Gardeners and farmers spend a lot of time preparing the ground, watering and fertilising, and waiting. Everything works to the rhythm of the seasons. A poor farmer it is who overstocks his pasture, doesn’t allow his land to lie fallow for a season, and overuses chemicals in the hope of bigger and better crops. The soil structure suffers and eventually it produces very little.

    Teaching is also like the work of a bricklayer. First the foundations have to be laid properly. The bricks are laid course on course. If one brick is missing in a course the next course will be missing two and the next, three.

    “Losing” learning over the summer vacation is nonsense. When something is learned it remains. What is meant by “losing” learning is that although something was “learnt” during school term it was merely covered. There is a vast difference between covering material and learning it.

    If people like Mr Gove have their way schools will be turned into what the poet Blake calls “dark satanic mills”. Teachers and students alike will be suffocated under tons of meaningless garbage in the quest to extract more and more from less and less.

    Two more analogies: There is an old story about a farmer who was obsessed with weighing his pigs to see if they were growing as fast as he expected. The poor man was so obsessed with the weight of his animals that he had little time to feed them properly. Eventually they all died. The sooner we get rid of the foul practice of mass testing the better for all concerned and the sooner we can get on with the real job of education.

    I have just established a small orchard on my land. I use drip irrigation to water the trees and each tree is planted with some blood and bone and fowl manure. I now have to wait while they grow to maturity and begin to bear fruit. I would be foolish to pull them up by the roots every year to see if they were growing. I must let nature do her job, while I do mine, watering and pruning in time and season. We have to work with nature, not against her.

    I have seen too much “education” working against nature than with her in my 40+ year vocation. I have seen geese being force fed to cause them to develop fatty liver. It might be good for the producer. It’s fatal for the goose.

  3. Nick Says:

    Once again I am infuriated by the ignorance of those who get to make all the decisions about education but have no real experience IN the education field except for their own schooling (Gove was a former Journalist and author before entering politics). Of all the dumb ideas coming out of politicians mouths this has to rate in the top ten….

    Firstly – I totally agree that by the end of the Term we are burnt out and in need of a mental break from face to face teaching. That doesn’t mean we are on holidays however. I think i manage about 4 weeks (out of the twelve) a year where I don’t actually do ANY SCHOOL WORK at all – the rest of the time during the holidays I am catching up with my programming, planning, marking or using the break to come up with fresh ideas for the coming term. In fact I would even say that some of my best ideas and best units have been developed out of that non face 2 face time when you actually have the luxury of being able to think deeply about what you are planning on doing rather than rushing onwards to the next class.

    i think you’ll also find that the main beneficiary of the twelve weeks vacation is the students themselves – there is only so much THEY can take before they need a mental break too. I know that by week 8 or 9 of each term the behaviour of the students goes south and the patience of the teachers becomes non-existent. So much so that i have suggested to some students that they don’t attend the last few days of school as they are likely to get themselves suspended!

    As far as Saturday’s go… does weekend sport not exist in England? Because in Australia I can only imagine the deep community anger if schools started opening on Saturdays and millions of kids suddenly couldn’t play sport…

    Of all the dumb ideas…

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