Time to cancel the end of term?
British school children are in school for just a few hours five days a week for around 38/40 weeks a year. It really doesn’t add up to very much overall so why do we allow so much of that precious time to be wasted?
In many schools far too much potential teaching and learning time is frittered away at the ends of terms – especially this month as the summer holidays approach. All over the country younger children will be helping to turn out stock cupboards, play board games, watch videos and hold parties and discos. Older ones see it, pretty accurately, as ‘doss time’ and some will use that as an excuse to absent themselves.
Yes, before anyone shoots me down in flames, of course there is learning benefit in (some) videos. Sport events and the like are part of the annual school pattern. Social events too help to develop all sorts of skills. But there is definitely a tendency for the emphasis to be off Serious Learning at this time of year – as any honest teacher will tell you – and the students are as aware of that as anyone. I am a former teacher and I know exactly how it works at the end of term.
There are, I think, two causes. One is the timing of exams and the other is the organisation of the school year.
Secondary schools usually hold internal exams for pupils who aren’t involved in public exams in June such as GCSE and A level. So all the school’s exams run at about the same time. Teachers can then mark the internal exams in the timetable gaps created by not having to teach GCSE and A Level classes.
And reports – which make it feel as if the school year is effectively over – have to be written very soon after so that there is time for senior staff to check and endorse them before the end of term. It’s a pretty frantic time of year for teachers and once it’s over the last couple of weeks can easily feel like an undemanding run down in which there’s no need to do much – if you allow that to happen and many (most?) schools do.
If, as I’ve argued before, we reduced the number of complicated, multi-paper exams we require schools students to take (And I really hope Gove can get his scrapping of GCSE through, not least because it’s become so convoluted, complicated, time-gobbling an educationally restrictive) then school time would have far fewer interruptions and teaching and learning could continue calmly right through the term.
GCSE and A level students are typically granted study leave and then they drift off after their final exam and are not required to be in school again that term. That is why School Proms and similar farewell events are generally held BEFORE exams, if you ever heard such illogical nonsense.
Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College, a former CTC now academy, in South London has a really imaginative answer to this problem and I wish more schools would take note that of what you can do if you have the will. It mounts a full scale opera as a post-exam project, rehearsed in under three weeks. Hundreds of students are involved as performers, players, backstage, front of house and so on. It teaches and develops many skills. And they achieve a fabulous standard. This year it’s Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience.
The arrangement of school terms dates from the days when rich kids needed to be free for the Ascot, Henley, grouse shooting etc season and poor ones had to help bring the harvest in. And it is no longer fit for purpose. There has been a lot of dabbling with five and six term years but it doesn’t seem to have made much difference. In Kent, where I live, for example, each half term is now called a term. It is simply cosmetic words.
A proper, radical, five term year, such as the one used at Brooke Weston, an academy in Corby, makes the most sense. You have five eight week terms separated by four weeks in the summer, two weeks late October, a few days over Christmas, two weeks in March and two weeks’ holiday at the end of May. It means that work can be planned in eight week blocks, classes are more likely to ‘hit the ground running’ and the work is structured to last until the end of each term.
And yet, whenever this is proposed it leads to an outcry from teaching unions and parents squealing. Mostly, about the difficulties of booking holidays and the need for teachers to have a long recuperative break – all much more important of course, than student learning. Nottingham City, for example, was proposing to introduce this scheme in 2013/14 but has been forced by public pressure to ‘reconsider.’
There is a lot of concern about educational standards at present. Few would disagree that the vast majority of young people work very hard if and when they are led to it. The trouble is they are too often misled – by outdated timetabling which wastes so much time, especially at the end of term, unchallenging curricula and by teachers and others who put their own comfort and convenience first.Tagged in: A-levels, children, education, end of term, exams, gcse, school, Students, summer holidays, youth
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