The idea of shortening the long summer holiday to make up for lost learning after a year of disrupted education has been floated several times by Education Minister Kirsty Williams.
The Welsh Government has confirmed “all options remain on the table” and it is actively seeking views on how to meet needs of learners most affected by school closures during lockdowns. Ms Williams has praised schools for their remote learning during the latest lockdown but has also said it cannot replace face to face teaching.
She has suggested shortening the next summer holiday to allow for firebreak lockdowns and school closures, if needed, next autumn and suggested catch-up learning could take place in the holidays.
It is unlikely those plans will be far ahead enough for catch-up learning in the Easter holiday, but it could be the case for the summer holiday and beyond. Earlier this month she told WalesOnline: “There is a range of possibilities about how we can use the summer recess in Wales.”
Attempts to extend last summer term for a week to help children catch up after months of closure had to be ditched after an outcry from local education authorities and unions. Most of Wales’ 22 councils told schools they could not open for more time due to staff contracts. But earlier this month the minister said possible term date changes were back on the table to help get pupils back to the classroom.
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How any catch up plan or change to the school year dates might look is another matter. And regardless of whether teachers would be willing to change their contracted holidays, would children and teenagers want to return to any sort of learning, just as lockdown might be easing in the summer?
Stuck at home for months doing remote learning and unable to meet with friends or take part in activities, how would they respond to being told summer holidays would be shorter?
Eithne Hughes, Director of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru thinks it’s “a non starter”.
She warned the last thing teachers want is to put children off school when they have been away so long.
“If we are talking about some sort of summer school and making it mandatory will that be seen by children as punishment?” she said.
“Children have had a really tough time and if we force school on them during summer holidays when many aren’t used to going to school after so long away, how will that work? If this comes at a time when they could travel or visit family or friends will they become resentful? “If a scheme is voluntary who is it going to reach? Will it reach those who are hardest to reach?
“More does not equal better. School should be about quality not quantity. The most important thing about school is to educate. To do that effectively you need to engage not disengage people.”
Neil Butler, national Wales official for the Nasuwt teaching union, dismissed the idea as “neither realistic nor desirable”.
He said children and teenagers have been working remotely and need a break to socialise and take part in other activities.
“Teachers and many learners have been working harder than ever in extremely difficult circumstances. They will need and deserve that break,” he said.
“Instead of these simplistic, knee jerk ideas that will achieve little the Welsh Government should be looking into some serious funding for education to enable reduced class sizes over the long term. That would be the best way to intensify education going forward and support learners who have had their education disrupted.”
But the Children’s Commissioner, Professor Sally Holland, backed the minister’s suggestion that holiday dates could be changed to address any lost learning.
“I would support adjusting the school year to maximise time in school,” she said.
“We need to explore lots of options.”
Are these ideas of plans?
Unions said no formal discussions on altering school year dates or holiday catch-up teaching have taken place.
But the Welsh Government said in a statement: “All options remain on the table at this time and we are at the very beginning of the discussion with all partners.
“Our plans will need to meet the needs of learners who have been most affected by this period – both their learning and socio-emotional and motivational needs.
“We will actively seek the views and contributions of learners, parents, teachers, unions, local authorities and other partners – we will need to work together to meet this challenge.
“Enabling children and young people to return to face-to-face education remains our priority and we understand the disruption to learning in the last year has meant more than just missed content for learners.
“We’ve invested £29m in our Recruit, Recover, Raise Standards programme for learners resulting in more than 1,000 teachers and support staff to provide additional this support for those who may have missed out on teaching due to the pandemic.”
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