Private school parents complain students get too much time off

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The Independent Online

Parents' leaders have demanded stricter controls over pupils' study leave in the wake of claims that independent schools were giving them too much time off from the classroom.

Some independent school heads acknowledged yesterday that pupils were getting more time off school as a result of a mushrooming of the exam season during the term. Many are told after completing GCSEs or A-levels that there is no need to return to formal lessons, leading to complaints from parents who claim they should be allowed a partial reduction in fees in compensation.

Richard Cairns, the headmaster of Brighton College, a £20,400-a-year independent school in East Sussex, said: "We do give them more time because the exam period is longer. They may be taking exams with more than one board which means they are more spread out and parents put us under pressure to have two weeks off before the exams. That means effectively they only get teaching for a third of the term."

Margaret Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations, which represents both state and independent schools, called for stricter monitoring of study leave, as in the state sector. "It depends on the individual how they use it," she said. "I remember my daughter used it as a cop-out but my son carried out a strict working regime. Schools might, I think, give a little more guidance on how it should be used and make a little more effort to monitor it."

However, she argued that pupils deserved time off after their exams. "Remember they work a longer school day in the independent sector and Saturday mornings," she added.

Independent school heads said boarding schools were more likely to offer longer holidays for their pupils because they were away from their parents so much. However, they were less able to give study leave - as most of their pupils were unable to leave the premises because their parents lived further away.

Sheila Cooper, the secretary of the Girls' School Association, rejected parents' claims for compensation. "That's a real nonsense," she said. "You're not paying a fee for the term, you're paying a fee for the whole year."

Other heads argued that if they delivered good exam results they were providing parents with what they had paid for.

The call for stricter monitoring of study leave comes after the state sector took similar action two years ago.

David Miliband, then the schools minister, described it as "video games leave", adding: "Study leave, for lots of boys especially, has become more and more about how you get to the next level on your games console than about how you get to your next grade in your GCSE."

He said that research showed that schools requiring pupils to continue timetabled lessons until their exams had produced better results.

Richard Cairns: 'We offer an alternative'

"Only one parent raised [study leave] as an issue," says Richard Cairns, the headteacher of £20,000 -a-year Brighton College. "But that could be because we offered pupils an alternative.

Not every pupil wants to prepare for exams in the same way so we offer them a three-hour study revision slot with their teacher during that period if they need it.

I don't think, therefore, there's any great aggravation about time off."