Are School Holidays Too Long?

BBC Breakfast carried a story today about somewhere in England, Nottingham I think, that wants to have shorter summer holidays. I don’t know why BBC News was carrying this story today as telegraph had this story in June and guardian in July. Perhaps then it was just a proposal and now it is going to be implemented.

The motivation for this idea comes from research in US which found that children from poorer backgrounds tended to drop back during school holidays whereas children from better of backgrounds tended not to. Malcom Gladwell wrote about this at length in Outliers. In fact reading Outliers and following up the references was a major spur to me writing my report Seven Little Mistakes which you can download here for free.

I think Outliers is a wonderful book and I urge everyone to read it.

The key sections relevant to longer school terms (at least as far as I can tell) are.

  • The work of Annettte Lareau described in chapter 4, page 102 of my copy.
  • The work of Karl Alexander described in chapter 9, page 255 of my copy.

Annette found that there were two parenting styles which split roughly along class lines.

Better off parents were heavily involved in their children’s activities when not at school.  It’s not that they they coached their children directly, but they made sure their children had plenty of stimulating things to do. AND these parents took an active interest in what their children were doing, i.e. they talked to their children about what they had been doing.

Poorer parents tended to care for their children but let them grow and develop on their own.

Karl found that better off and poor children learned as much during term times BUT during holidays, particularly the summer holiday, better off children continued to learn (even without being taught explicitly) whereas children from poorer backgrounds tended to stand still.  With each holiday the gap between better off and poorer children widened.

By the way I have given a very brief summary here, Outliers has much more detail. And you can read the original research.

Well this may all be interesting but so what, in particular does it have anything to guide us about having shorter school holidays?

As better off children continue to learn during holidays it is obviously not necessary to continue school in its normal term time fashion.  But why not keep the school open and run a series of activities that would interest and stimulate the children.

Attendance need not be compulsory, but if the activities were interesting enough children would want to go.  Isn’t results lead achievement all the rage these days?  Some parents would welcome the help with child care.

A more or less random list of things that spring to mind are

  • Sports
  • Orchestra
  • Form a choir
  • Rock School (lets all form a band)
  • Learn another language
  • Write a book
  • Produce a  television program and put it on YouTube
  • Older children could listen to younger children read
  • Older children could teach younger children science or maths
  • Plan to run a business
  • Run a business for real
  • Make a robot
  • Make a boat
  • Build a website
  • Provide entertainment for elderly people

The list goes on, but the general idea is to find practical uses for what has been learned during term time?

For all the moaning of decline Britain can produce world class musicians.  The The Brit School has been instrumental (pun intended) in a number of outstanding careers.

I don’t now a great deal about the The Brit School but I did see a short interview with the headmaster. He said something like

I don’t see it as my place to direct people. I see my role as providing an environment where people can develop their own ideas.

 I see ‘school’ during school holidays as something like this.

What do you think?






2 thoughts on “Are School Holidays Too Long?

  1. I think anything that help keep kids minds and bodies active during the school holidays is going to be a benefit – day out to fun educational places are good, but even just doing sill maths competitions in the car can help.

  2. Absolutely agree. It’s keeping minds active that helps learning.

    And things like practicing tables needn’t take long, Little and Often
    works best, 5 or 10 minutes at a time is ample.

    In many ways the gaps between sessions are as important as the sessions themselves in helping to lock knowledge in long term memory.

    I’m sure something like a trip to the Race Center would be fun too!

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